Cathedral of the Pines by Gregory Crewdson

I visited this exhibition in August at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. I had known Crewdson’s images for some tine although I knew little about him. Having studied his work for the course, I would have liked to have attended this exhibition on the study day, but I was otherwise occupied on that date, so going to it on my own was a chance to catch up on what I had missed.

Crewdson’s mages are always fascinating, but it was exciting to see them in their original format rather than as small reproductions on the internet or in a book. The first thing that struck me about them was the incredible detail in the photographs. You could look at them as a whole image or you could examine them closely and see things that you would be unable to see at first glance. For example, in the image Cathedral of the Pines which gives the exhibition its title, I had never before noticed the bra hanging in the wooden toilet.

This indicates one aspect of all Crewdson’s photographs, there is always some sort of mystery in the image. Another example is Father and Son where not only are you left to wonder what is going on, is the father dead or alive, but why is there a hole cut in the wall beside the mirror?

Crewdson’s pictures also contain quite a lot of repeated symbols. For example virtually every image contains a glass half full of water or some other drink. Even in one of the exterior shots the glass of water is seen in the telephone booth:

Crewdson also likes to include other items in the frame such as old books and framed pictures. I could not help but notice that one picture appears in two of his shots, one in a bedroom and the other in what is supposed to be a living room.

All the images in this exhibition have incredible depth of field. According to the accompanying booklet he makes use of focus stacking to get the necessary sharp focus.

We shoot different layers of focus throughout: foreground, ground and background. Then in post production we combine all these focuses into a single image. (Plowright, 2017).

This does mean however that all his subjects are static, and I do find that the resulting images, despite the presence of people are more like still lifes than living images. This is notable in Under the Bridge where the exposure time is sufficient to blur the moving water.

I also at times find his use of light quite strange. I know that he uses a complex lighting and a lighting director when creating his images, but I’m not sure that it always works. For example in Woman in Parked Car there is obviously more light within the car than outside. This is unnatural which gives an unearthly feeling to the picture. It is part of his style but it goes against the feeling of reality within the images.

Seeing these pictures for the first time in their original version was fascinating. Whether you like his style or not, they are certainly impressive in their production values. Creating anything like these is way out of any possibilities for the average photographer.

Reference:

  • Plowright, N. (2017). Loose Associations vol 3 issue ii. London: The Photographers’ Gallery, p.29.

Image credits

  • Crewdson, G. (2013). Detail from Cathedral of the Pines. [Photograph] London: The Photographers’ Gallery.
  • Crewdson, G. (2013). Detail from Father and Son. [Photograph] London: The Photographers’ Gallery.
  • Crewdson, G. (2013). Detail from The Telephone Booth. [Photograph] London: The Photographers’ Gallery.
  • Crewdson, G. (2013). Details from Pregnant Woman on Porch and Woman in Living Room. [Photographs] London: The Photographers’ Gallery.
  • Crewdson, G. (2013). Detail from Woman in Parked Car. [Photograph] London: The Photographers’ Gallery.

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