Entering the world of Gregory Crewdson is like stepping into a silent movie from the 1980’s in which the viewers emerge into paint-like decors. Silence reigns in quiet rooms between the conversations of different characters who inhabit muted landscapes. Crewdson is an American photographer who uses a large team comparable to a movie production to recreate realise his vision – a vision that stems from reflections of his subconscious blended into the swirl of emotions he swims in daily both metaphorically and literally.
The three floors at The Photographer’s Gallery are filled with Crewdson’s photographs, generating incommensurable suspense from one image to the next, as they sit in a predictable status quo. In the selection of each prop nothing is left to chance – each element whether it is a glass of water, an old blanket or a book, is set for a purpose. To investigate the meaning of each object would not only take up too much time but would also fan a too wide scope, as Crewdson’s narratives not only originate from the depths of his imagination but also spring indirectly from his upbringing as the son of a psychoanalyst. As an artist, he draws upon his own torments in order to produce his work. The series was shot between 2013 and 2014 in the town of Becket Massachusetts where Crewdson’s family used to vacation during the summertime. A return to this location was brought on by a need to reconnect with nature, according to an interview he gave to Thurston Moore, and unfolded after a complicated divorce. As I gaze along the walls, I find myself at times trapped in moments, and at other times being merely an observer, peeking from the window, or hiding behind a tree to witness a scene. In Crewdson’s scenarios, the actors seem to be stuck in a pose, a moment which belongs only to them, whereby they can contemplate their inner-selves, the same way I can sometimes feel stuck in my thoughts, eyes staring into space, connected with the interior world of my body, devoid of any emotions.
Although this is the perception I get from the characters by looking deeply into the images, when I take a step back and enjoy the landscape, the props and the quality of the image, I tend to invent scripts and stories. Like a detective, my mind tries to gather the clues in order to recreate the plot once envisioned by the artist. This paradoxical freedom enclosed in a delimited setting expresses the inexorable complexity of the human being. Individuals, confined in their own flesh, here represented by the homes, are capable of journeying deep within themselves to face their inner demons, almost wanting to become one with those who cause pain and sadness.
Most of the characters who pose for the camera are naked. The women, who are plump, seem to have been extracted from a Renaissance masterpiece and are now wandering aimlessly into Crewdson’s canvases. The nudity increases the sense of vulnerability and at the same time acts as a powerful shield. Crewdson sends his characters armed and strong in the stillness of their own emotional disarray.
Delving into the quiet landscapes, I find myself startled by an unseen character, or a hidden reflection shrewdly mirrored in one of the second plane of the image. These are part of the psychological games played by Crewdson on his viewers. Through visual manipulation he allows his characters to appear and disappear, creating instant fear and anxiety in his viewer’s perception of the images.
One after the other, floor after floor, the series never seems to end. The weight of the pain is palpable and I can sense it travel from one image to the other, disguised in the settings, hidden in the narratives, and kept secret deep down within the characters’ bodies. There is nothing left for myself or the viewers but to participate with compassion and empathy with our own eyes. Through the image which resonates the most with our inner feelings, we can imagine what it would feel like to strip down our own barriers and connect with tangible, unspeakable emotions which are being repressed on the plains of our own still landscape.
Cathedral of The Pines: Gregory Crewdson at The Photographer’s Gallery (23 June – 8 October 2017)