Gregory Crewdson is a photographer like you’ve never seen before. In fact, I’m not even sure if the word ‘photographer’ covers it all. This artist from Brooklyn doesn’t just go out on the street to take a picture, he creates the picture. He uses typical American suburbs to build a stage-set, as if it was for a movie, to take the perfect photo. Unlike a lot of modern photographers, who want to capture the life of the streets ‘as is’, for instance the very popular Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, Crewdson will use anything from artificial light to special effects like rain and ice to tell a story.
His pictures are set in a natural environment, but Crewdson takes all the familiar feelings out of it and creates a surreal, haunting image. His pictures look so surreal that they almost look like paintings. He shows us moments, frozen in time, that give you the disturbing feeling that something strange is going on. His images are often set at twilight and the atmosphere as almost apocalyptic. The situations shown are unnatural and never explained, but they trigger your imagination and express a lot of emotions. Most of the characters in his pictures are either barefoot children or naked adults, both looking very vulnerable. They show, a certain loneliness, or even sadness, as well as a little mystery. Crewdson emphasizes little imperfections; a lot of the objects in the set are damaged, dirty, clearly old or derelict. His world is clearly not one of sunshine, happiness and richness.
In Crewdson’s series Brief Encounters (above), the image itself is untitled, and a good example of the world he is trying to show. There is no explanation to this picture, it’s no part of a bigger story. Crewdson will not present a given story, he asks questions. What is the woman in her underwear doing outside? What is the relationship between her and the other two? Why is one of the grocery bags on the ground, and what was in it? The way Crewdson plays with suggestion and mystery keeps you fascinated for a long time.
The same fascination can be found viewing this photo from the series Beneath the Roses, also untitled, of the vulnerable-looking old woman that we are watching from a distance. The expression in her face and body express something hopeless, something shattered. This is a common feeling Crewdson portrays with his characters. Combined with the typical American settings, this might refer to the crushed American dream.
This is why Crewdson reminded me immediately of screenwriter Alan Ball, who wrote and directed American Beauty and the HBO series Six Feet Under. The settings are the same and both of these artist use the surreal touch to give their work a gloomy feeling. In fact, Crewdson worked with Ball to take an advertisement photo for Six Feet Under. Both of the artists create an amazing feeling of everyday life, haunted by loneliness and insecurities. This is what makes Crewdson so fascinating: through portraying another world very similar to ours, he shows the common horrors of life with a certain distance that leaves you staring at his pictures for ages.