Review: Gregory Crewdson’s cinematic photography

Gregory Crewdson’s dark, atmospheric, cinematic photographs capture perfectly framed frozen moments incorporating disconnected figures which seem to reflect the domestic and natural landscapes they inhabit; the mundane landscapes are often characterised by an eerie solitude and transformed into something otherworldly, haunting, and compelling. His photographs seem to both reveal and conceal something, creating ambiguous narratives – they are both stills of life and embodiments of the uncanny. The boundaries between life and art, between intimacy and isolation, between strange and familiar environments are blurred.

“My pictures are about everyday life combined with theatrical effect. I want them to feel outside of time, to take something routine and make it irrational. I’m always looking for a small moment that is a revelation.” – Gregory Crewdson

The cinematic nature of his work is also reflected in the complex process of creating and staging his images: there is a large crew involved in various aspects of production; props, casting, storyboards, and the natural world is heightened by the use of artificial Hollywood-style lighting and effects such as artificial rain and ice.

“My pictures are about a search for a moment—a perfect moment. To me the most powerful moment in the whole process is when everything comes together and there is that perfect, beautiful, still moment. And for that instant, my life makes sense.” – Gregory Crewdson

In his interviews, GC emphasises the importance of the visual balance between the figure, the interior space, and the exterior space; the feeling of transience and the sense of in-between-ness evoked by his images, the enigmatic moments between other unknown moments, the visual commentary on the human condition, the portrayal of flesh, nudity, aging, vulnerability, and mortality.

Crewdson’s aesthetic incorporates American suburban surrealism, and the mise-en-scène usually features windows, mirrors, bleak settings shown in a mysterious, ghostly light. His photographs are windows into the intimacy of a world filled with hidden unsettling desires.

“I’m interested in using the iconography of nature and the American landscape as surrogates or metaphors for psychological anxiety, fear or desire.”- Gregory Crewdson

The characters created often seem alienated, immersed in deep thought, in cosmic loneliness, internal conflict, or a longing for something ineffable. Their expressions are pensive, focused on something beyond the world depicted, at times introspective. The feelings evoked are anticipation – frozen in time, subconscious disquiet, and estrangement.

“I really love that dynamic between beauty and sadness…there’s always these moments of quiet alienation, the sense of disconnect, but also, these moments of possibility.”- Gregory Crewdson

Crewdson’s photography reminds us of the suspense, sadness, and solitude of Edward Hopper’s paintings, of Diane Arbus’ bizarre and psychologically intense photographic portraits of people on the margins of society, of William Eggleston’s saturated depictions of seemingly normal, mundane settings behind which something disturbing seems to lurk; as well as the surreal quality of the films of David Lynch.

Crewdson’s series include Cathedral of Pines, Twilight, and Beneath the Roses.

2 thoughts on “Review: Gregory Crewdson’s cinematic photography

  1. Matt James says:

    I hope you don’t mind me indulging in your expressions. Today, while going to break at work, thought I would read one of your film reviews for some light reading. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was definitely not light reading and not something I was going to be able to read on a break.

    I realized this was something I was going to have to take time to process. So I read part of it at break and the rest at lunch, knowing I had to comment my thoughts and giving me time to process it. I also read a couple of your expressions about photographers. Though I might touch upon them within my thoughts here, I will be fair and comment properly on those posts. They deserve it.

    First off, it is easy to see that you are highly intelligent. The thing I enjoyed was that you expressed your intelligence without showing off, exposing the insecurity that plagues some highly intelligent people. You didn’t use descriptive words that are so long and extraordinary as to cause most anyone to have to go get a dictionary. When I come across those types of expressions, I’m not going to go get a dictionary. I will simply stop reading and move on thinking, “Okay. Your smart. Thanks for revealing your insecurity of it.”

    For you, I would have probably gone to the dictionary. Because I didn’t have to do so it made the expression far more enjoyable. To indulge in your intelligence without feeling that you want to feel superior to the reader.

    I am not a fan of horror movies. This is why I chose this particular review, to see how you would express something that I have no interest in. By the end I was actually interested in the movie. Having you explain to me the details of the movies in a way where I wanted to experience them myself.

    Your writing is intense and very fast pace. I really enjoyed the descriptiveness. There was one paragraph that caught my eye, causing me to reread it several times, just for the enjoyment it gave me. This also caused me to think of other things while reading.

    You’re an artist who explores art. I’m an artist who explores thought. It reminded me of a violinist I was once seeing. She exposed me to aspects of the art that most people never see. Before her I was merely an observer of the performance. After her, though I never knew what it was to truly be a participant of the art, I learned of the details of her experience was which expanded my mind to a challenging yet beautiful world, learning so many new things where, at times, I was completely overwhelmed, though joyfully overwhelmed.

    I was able to experience this again through your expressions. I’m not an analyst of art. When most people go into the symbolism and details of a work of art I usually just glaze over and think, “But this is how it makes me feel from the experience of the art as a whole.” This is how I looked at the photos by Gregory Crewdson, my first thought was, “This is depressing.”

    I almost didn’t continue but, to truly be open to the experience you were offering me, I opened the photos to take a deeper look. One thing you have to realize about how I perceive things is it is through my feelings. I know it is strange for a man to say such a thing. If you take away my feelings it is like being blind. I feel helpless. So, this is how I perceived these photos, through my feelings. I opened my feelings up to the images. As I did so I saw shadows of people I’ve known in my life People who had done everything right in society. They had the house, cars, children. All the things that society tells us to have to be accepted by it.

    Yet, underneath, when I would actually stay with them for a period of time, I would see another side of them. A side that often confused me because it was rather dark and pained. Where, when they were out in the world portraying themselves as people of the society they were upbeat and happy. While in the confines of everything they had gathered to support their status in the society they expressed an emptiness, a darkness and even great pain. Looking like zombies as they stared emptily into the abyss of their mundane existence. Often wishing they could have lived a life like me, free of all those burdens and unnecessary responsibilities. They often said this to me while, at the same time, calling me a fool.

    I was confused by this because I was pretty much the same person everywhere I went while they were duplicitous in their life. It seemed dishonest to me. Like they were living a lie. This sort of offended me in a way, though I would often say, “To each their own.”

    Okay, I broke my promise and commented fully on another post rather than leaving it there. My apologies.

    Oh, you might want to know the paragraph that caught my attention. I got sidetracked. It was:

    “The ghastly, sickening acts and soft gore visuals are mixed with beautiful, compelling imagery and a glamorous style in such a harmonious way, as if purposely trying to make it hard for viewers to be grossed out; instead, the viewer is under a spell, watching the unfolding of a disturbingly strange dream.”

    For me, this paragraph was a work of art in itself. Like a smaller painting within the main painting. It aroused so many feelings within me. Feeling the contrast between the “ghastly, sickening acts..” to the “glamorous style in such a harmonious way” really captured my feelings. The images that my feelings created was a wonderful experience.

    I will end by saying thank you. Thank you for causing me to think. Thank you for causing me to feel excited about something I’ve never really thought about before. Thank you for opening my mind to a new world through your intellect and great ability in expressing your thoughts.

    P.S. Since I probably won’t be commenting on the other posts now that I’ve done it here, there was one thing that I felt within it all. I thought of how the type of art you are expressing for the most part, if I were to live my life within such a perspective, would cause me to become severely depressed. I’m more an artist of light than of darkness.

    Then I thought of what these artists are doing, in a more extreme way, is the same thing as I am doing. Telling the society how screwed up it is. Showing it from the other side. Where I express where society could go if they would only allow themselves to become free of the bondage they voluntarily put themselves within, these artists are expressing the pain and darkness of the society as it is now. Allowing them (those of the society) to see themselves in a way they might not see because, sadly, most of the general population is not very self aware. This is something you gave me through your descriptions them and something I might have missed had I experienced them alone.

    One more thank you, Now I will end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt James says:

      Ooops, I commented on the wrong post. There was a glitch when I finished the comment where I couldn’t get down to the post comment button. So I copied the text, went out and back in to the post. It seems I selected the wrong post being it was on my mind at the time. It’s all good because this post was a major part of my comment and experience. Thank you again.


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