Photo debate - Gregory Crewdson

The new photography debate for members of the Lindow Photographic Group revolves around the work of American photographer Gregory Crewdson. Best known for his photographs, which feature elaborately staged, surreal tableaus of suburban life, it is these 'tableaus' that we shall consider and discuss through this blog.

To start the discussion I'd like to pose the questions 'what type of photography is this?  Is it fine art, figurative, landscape or is it a genre all of its own?'

'What is the difference between the way he creates his work and that of a still from a film?'

And lastly 'what do the images communicate to you and where is he drawing his influences from?'

Add your thoughts and questions to this blog, but if you'd like to research a bit more here is a direct link Aperture190


  1. There's a great film out recently starring George Clooney called The Descendants, about a man rebuilding his family after his wife dies. Sounds grim but it's a kind of comedy really.

    What's interesting about it from the perspective of Crewdson is that the extended last scene of The Descendents looks exactly like a Crewdson living room shot, with the same depth, breadth and lighting. I am interested to know if this is deliberate or a coincidence.

  2. For me the photo technique of the saturated colours create a vision of a reality that is distorted (like a Hollywood fantasy movie - Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit) where the enhancement of the colour brings out the overall surrealness of the images and makes them seem almost dreamlike - some images look like a distorted vision of 50's America with the colours and other remind me of a depression era photograph colourised

    The question of like and dislike is less pronounced than our last selection – would I hang them on the wall – No – would I buy the book – Yes

  3. Whilst studying these images I was struck (amusingly so) by the similarity of the settings and the one in which I found myself - TV on (redundant), husband in 'his' rocking chair, Laptop on lap, me on 'my' sofa iPad on lap, lap dog, displaced, in front of the fire! Not quite as surreal but I'm sure we can work on it!

    The creation of the sets seems to me to depict 'normal' domestic scenes similar to those of many American soap operas, with the inclusion of a surreal element, the people in them have an air of unhappiness about them, as if there is something missing in their lives, maybe Crewdson is trying to convey a whole soap opera into one still image?

    I'm not quite sure that I can categorise the genre to which his work belongs, probably Fine art, he may well prefer one of his own, his work is unique - Soapscape?

  4. OK here goes - I feel that they're a combination of all 3 but Julie's description of 'Soapscape' fits well.

    I think a still is a frozen frame of an incident now past but Crewdson manages to depict a continuing story with sub-plots going on around the main subject. His placing of a single strong light source within the shots seem to emphasise this . To me the characters project a deep sense of lonliness, isolation, abuse - an emotion he has accentuated by the use of cool filters and vignetting. They're images of inner pain & ones you linger over to find the cause.

  5. I love this work but then I am a great fan of the painters Edward Hopper and Vermeer whose work share some of the same qualities. They all seem fascinated by the claustrophobic drama of everyday life and the inner space that is not shared between individuals, between the 'self' and the 'other'. All three artists use enhanced colours and are deliberately staged.In both Hopper's and Crewdson's work the sense of isolation is increased by the fact that no eye contact is made between the subjects or with the viewer.This work can be revisited endlessly and each time a different 'drama'
    can be imagined.So I think it's Fine Art Photography and psychological drama!

  6. He seems to recreate or create from his imagination, scenarios. Scenarios of despair, domestic scenarios, unhappy. The sets match this is their drab disrepair. How do they differ from a film still? They look more like a stage set. Why? The lighting, it's focused and specific. Directional and purposeful, like a live snapshot, raw as apposed to the polish of a film still. They are very definite still moments rather than action shots. Poised, carefully arranged. To be viewed at leisure. An instant captured and understandable rather than a fleeting moment in time. Cinematic photography has a gloss, a glamour. Accentuating the action, rather than an emotional instance to be pondered...
    Showing the extents of the scene, rather than focusing on a particular area such as a it the wide angle that causes this? A film still can draw you into it, and these photographs make you clearly feel a bystander, viewer on the outside looking in..the wide angle is closer to the view the naked eye would see, therefore the viewer feels part of the scene, as a member of a theatre audience, watching a live scene played out in front of Them.

  7. My reaction to the work is similar to that of the others earlier.

    The images seem to capture a particular point in what for each one must be a long,continuing story. Each image shows one or more subjects contemplating something serious to the extent of being almost entitrely disconnected from their environment (especially in the case of what seems to be a dead woman floating in a flooded room!)

    Each indoor environment seems to be very complex with lots of clutter, lights, views into other rooms, other views of the same room through mirrors or windows giving views of the outside. Perhaps this is a representation of the complexity of most people's lives or of the subject's inner life.

    As well as illustrating a moment in time in a continuing story each image seems to place the observer very much on its outside as an onlooker, completely separate from the story as though viewing a frame on a paused film or a scene about to start in play. Most of these images made me think of looking at a composed theatre set.

    I don't know what genre you would categorise these images as. I would suggest 'narrative'. Each image contains a story which can only be imagined by the observer but which could well mean something particular to the photographer. And he is more than happy to provoke you, the onlooker, into imagining just what that story might be!


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