Gregory Crewdson: Beginnings

Director Ben Shapiro’s New Documentary Unveils the Photographer’s Artistic Process

Musing on happy childhood holidays spent at a cabin on Lake Buel in Western Massachusetts, Gregory Crewdson reveals the origins of his cinematic tableaux in this documentary extract. Filmed over a period of ten years, with unprecedented access, director Ben Shapiro's forthcoming feature Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters explores the artistic processes behind the maverick photographer's gothic fairytales of small town American life. Credited with conceiving a new, expansive photographic language, Crewdson explores human alienation in quietly dystopian, everyday suburban environments. Represented by Gagosian Gallery and Jay Jopling's White Cube in London, Crewdson's work is held in the collections of several major art institutions, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum and the Whitney Museum in New York. Often employing a crew of 50-plus people over production periods lasting months, with budgets comparable to independent movies, Crewdson shoots either on location in the desolate streets and surrounding woodland of Western Mass, or recreates his elaborate domestic scenes on a soundstage from scratch. “It all starts with location, alone driving around in a car to the same spots again and again,” he explains. “It's all about being on your own, and reacting to a place.” Here he talks to NOWNESS about formative influences, casting choices and photography as catharsis. 

Did growing up with a psychoanalyst father influence  your work?
Gregory Crewdson:
My father has been a huge influence in my life in many ways, but I think undoubtedly his profession—he used to have his office in the basement of our house in Brooklyn—was key to my development and my understanding of life, shaping my interest in the idea of the uncanny and preoccupation with revealing secrets in everyday life.

Do you see the creation of your images as a form of therapy?
Absolutely. I think making photographs is my way of trying to establish—if only for a moment—some sense of order within the chaos of everyday life. It helps me to try and make sense of the world, to find some solace in the idea of the possibility of control, even if fleetingly.

You often use local people in your pictures. Why is this?
I am always drawn to normal people––to non-actors––over professional actors or movie stars. I am usually attracted to the people who have a ghostlike quality, who carry a sense of regret and sadness with them. Ultimately, the most important thing is to create a beautiful picture and I go to enormous pains in my use of color, light and atmosphere to create as beautiful an image as I possibly can.

Check out our Facebook page for an extended interview with Gregory Crewdson on Diane Arbus, Alfred Hitchcock and the films that inspired him.

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