Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Greg Crewdson

I got the new issue of Aperture the other day and it's one the couple of issues a years that's actually worth getting - with several good articles in it.

But a major feature is about the work of Gregory Crewdson. Aperture has also gone to town on their website with a whole interactive setup with images and interviews with him and his crew around one of his more recent projects: Beneath The Roses. (Along with the obligatory book - interestingly, not by Aperture)

I also just finished watching the last of the BBC series - The Genius of Photography (very good overall BTW) - in which Crewdson is featured - working on the picture below, among others.

I don't intend to go into examining Crewdson's work in depth here - that's far to big a project involving comparisons with others such as Geoff Wall, Joel Sternfeld, cinema (and numerous directors), fashion photography, the history of painting and so on...

Needless to say I do quite enjoy Crewdson's work. It doesn't quite bowl me over in the same way as the work of certain other photographers, but it holds my attention and causes me to think. I enjoy what he does and how how it looks.

What I did want to mention was how some people seem to react to Crewdson's work - sometimes quite vociferously. It's not the actual photographs they seem to dislike, or even that they are constructs, sets, staged, but rather the way he makes them. Some folk seem positively offended because he isn't just one man and his dog and a big camera on a tripod taking the pictures, but that he has a whole crew - not just actors in his scenes, but lighting crews, a director of photography and a camera operator. Somehow this seems to cause an outcry in certain areas, along with an awful lot of angst, with comments along the lines of - "he doesn't even take his own pictures", "he's not a photographer, damn it (bah humbug...)"; "why does he need someone else to do the work for him" etc etc

"On Main Street, Pittsfield Massachusetts lights are being rigged, props are being positioned and actors are taking their places. It looks like a movie, sounds like a movie and smells like a movie, but it isn't. All of this activity is to make a single photograph, by Gregory Crewdson.

"I work with a production crew that all come out of film. We work with cinematic lighting but we are only after creating one single perfect moment." (Gregory Crewdson, photographer)

Over an 11 day shoot in a variety of locations Crewdson's team will make a series of multiple exposures which will be digitally combined to make six final images. He'll produce an edition of six prints of each image priced at approximately $60,000. There's already a list of prospective buyers.

With his striking tableaux which combine Hollywood's production values with suburbia's bad dreams Crewdson has become hot property, confident that he has an audience who will appreciate, and if they can afford it, buy his work. For Crewdson the business and benefits of being a photographer feel very different from the experience of earlier generations. (From The Genius of Photography, BBC)

And I guess what surprises me is that - well, it surprises me. I find it a little hard to comprehend how someone can get worked up about how Crewdson produces his pictures rather than the pictures themselves. Love them or hate them (or be indifferent) - but that he has someone click the shutter for him - so what?

One final bit of analysis of Crewdson and his work - it has obvious links with cinema, and in some ways with the early proto-cinematic photography of Muybridge - someone who didn't think twice about having a whole crew assist him in his project.


adrian tyler said...

the "genius of photography" quote come from the episode about how the art world has recently fallen in love with photography "very different from the experience of earlier generations". which includes of course alec sloth and a whole host of all the other big money players.

certaily i'd like to see crewson make those images on a social security cheque, so i'm no so sure that the image itself is "the point" any more, certainly in this context.

Unknown said...

I'm annoyed by Crewdson not as a photographer but as a movie lover. He takes the techniques, ideas and images of the most democratic form of art in history and uses them to make these dreary images which are available only to those who have 60 grand laying around.

Luis said...

I think of the authorship issues surrounding Crewdson as having been resolved eons ago, certainly by Leonardo's time, and played far more astutely to the artist's advantage contemporarily by Warhol.

Problem with the cinematic approach are very similar to those faced by movie studios.

Oscillations in photography between the soloist/low production value approach, and the total-control high-zoot team efforts have played themselves out several times in history.

This type of work tends to yield results that are overtly paralyzed in time. Crewdson's work is not alone in its rigorous morbidity. Jeff Wall's Outside a Nightclub 2004-2005, is to a street scene as a frozen turkey is to one in the forest.

Fortunately, champagne does not improve according to the size of the bottle.

--- Luis