Research Point – Gregory Crewdson

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below. [accessed 24/02/14]

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?


I hade seen some o the work of Crewdson prior to this part of the course and had been struck by both the cinematic quality  and the sheer scale of the work. As part of the of the ‘Perdidos en la Ciudad’ exhibition I visited at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Spain, there were 4 of Crewdson images filling a massive gallery space. I have to say the images in the flesh are utterly mesmerising, the detail is almost indescribable at close quarters. The use of well known hollywood actors as subject in the images adds to the epic cinematic qulkaity of the work. in a digital age the power of his 10×8 view camera negatives printed on a grand scale are utterly beautiful, in spite of their often sensitiser narrative. It is in this context and with a little familiarity that I respond to the questions in this research point.

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Certainly but i need to explain why. The images are without doubt aesthetically engaging, the use of colour, the High Definition detail of the work couples with the use of lighting. As the OCA reference video: ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame‘ highlights, Crewdson pays great attention to the lighting using what appear to be the same techniques that a movie director wold employ. All of that said the placement of characters and objects in the frame couples with the location and the lighting challenge the view to ask questions about what is going on. i will use the image below to illustrate what I mean.

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The seemingly simple scene of a residential district in the snow reveals something  about place and time and season, but the lone and small figure standing in the doorway of the building raises questions? The future could initially be overlooked, but like so many of Crewdson’s images the people in them add a tension to the scene. This particle image also has the title “Beneath the roses again asking questions of the view and almost holding the vower in intrigue. There is something eerie in his images in part created by the time taken, often in the strange light of twilight, which again adds to the intrigue. The images also have the look of ‘photo realistic painting and some of the smaller works i have seen by Crewdson demand close inspection to see that they are actually photographs. This all adds to the sense that there is far more to this work than the aesthetic.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdsons work has an almost fairy tail, other worldly quality even though he is using a clearly urban landscape at twilight. I was interested in the reference in ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame’ video to Crewdson’s father being a Psycho Analyst and the artist as a child hearing, without really being able to define what was being said as  his father worked with patients in a room below him in his childhood home. There is perhaps an ‘unconscious’ world being p in the portrayed in the twilight realm that Crewdson is creating in his work. This sense of the ‘psychological is to my eye further enhanced by the expressions on the faces of some of the subjects in the images as well as the nature of the ‘tableau’ he creates. The image below I feel illustrates this:

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The image, called ‘Daughter is quite disturbing, the look on the face of the mother and the posture of the half clothed figure creates a troubling but simultaneously  intriguing tableau that is certainly not a normal family scene. Stephen Berg (2015) suggests that Crewdson’s work uses a ‘supernatural ‘quality to portray american life, drawing upon the work of Gary Winnogrand and Walker Evans , but offering a very personal take. The work is edgy and disturbing and for me the heart of the psychological feel that the work creates is the tension between the aesthetic beauty inherent in his work contrasts with the disturbing themes he is revealing. There is also a tension between the sense of the ‘credible’ that the aesthetic nature of his images offer , contrasted with the troubling themes within the work. this drama adds to the sense of the psychological in the work. There are lots of references on line to the influence of Hopper on Crewdson, Hopper too offers a sense of the psychological in his work, perhaps the solitude evident in some of his work. Crewdson work has encouraged me to visit the work of hopper too.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

These are tough questions to answer, not least because it would be hard to compete with the beauty of Crewdson’s images whatever my motive for image making! That said I do strive in my own developing practice to produce something that is aesthetically pleasing even if the motive is wider or there is a more specific intent in the work. Why? Well I believe that engaging viewer can be assisted by a visually aesthetic image. The surrealist to an extent used beauty and intrigue to engage the viewer and Crewdson uses a cinematic approach to engage the ver with what i think is a much greater message, one of the things that sit bowl the surface where all might not be what it seems at first glance. I am reminded of David lynch’s work such as Blue Velvet, where the picturesque picket fence  draws us in but later reveals the immensely sinister. Beauty has a way of engaging! i think i need to reflect on this more though as i move to make assignment 5.


Berg, S (2015) quoted in Koetzle (2015)

Koetzle, H-M (2015) A-Z, Taschen, Koln

Gregory Crewdson II:

Perdidos en la ciudad. La vida urbana en las colecciones delIVAM:



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