Still Life

Gregory Crewdson Discusses Form, Narrative and Rorschach

<i>Brooklyn-born photographer Gregory Crewdson began his creative career as guitarist in The Speedies, an early 80s rock band whose biggest hit was, aptly, “Let Me Take Your Photo.” Now renowned for his unsettling, surreally perfect large-scale images, he’s also a professor at Yale, where he has taught such up-and-comers as Malerie Marder, Justine Kurland and Jenny Gage. NOWNESS sat down with him as he prepared for his new show, Sanctuary, which we premiere exclusively today. 
Your work tends to have a sense of expectancy, as if we’re on the edge of something momentous.

I think it’s the way I have experienced the world. I’ve used this phrase before, in my relationship to the world and photography—“there, but not there.” That sense of being there, but slightly separate from the world. All photographers have that, just by looking through the lens; they’re a bystander and a voyeur. I may have inherited that from my father [a psychoanalyst]. Psychoanalysts have that same “there, but not there.” 
Do you think the cliffhanger feel of your stills would be diluted if you were to work in film?

I think it’s more to the point that I think almost exclusively in terms of single images. When I am making a picture I’m never thinking about what is happening before or after. Almost by definition, that would make me a pretty bad filmmaker. I do admire filmmakers and writers who think linearly, but that is so foreign to the way I think.
For your first book, Hover, you sent images to authors and asked them to come up with a story, almost like you were giving them a Rorschach test.

Right. Well, you know, when I ask these writers to come up with something it is firstly because I am in awe of writers who think in those ways and create those worlds, but also because I think that my work has a relationship to storytelling and narrative.
You’re a professor at Yale—does that interaction challenge you, keep you young?

Absolutely. I teach for a lot of reasons, but most of them are selfish. Well, maybe not selfish, but I think it is important for an artist to keep a relationship with the next generation that are coming through because they obviously think so differently. Also we do these critiques which are the only place I know where we can talk out loud about coming to terms with meaning or form or what makes pictures work or not. 


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