From the series Beneath the Roses by Gregory Crewdson.
Gregory Crewdson is pretty much a celebrity in our little world. They’ve even made a film about him. The problem for me is that among all this hype I can’t see the wood for the trees. The film trailer is all about the lights, the process, the director (rather than the photographer)… and while I appreciate the effort he goes to and the passion he has, I struggle to find much about the content, about the actual pictures. Even Crewdson himself, in an interview in Aperture 190, is vague on the details, saying that there was a narrative for sure but it’s all about “location, location, location, location.” I’m never one to shirk ambiguity, in fact I love it more than most, but it still seems to me that there is a fine line between ambiguity and lack of clarity.
Contrary to popular belief, ambiguity is the ability to create multiple meanings out of a single text (the text being the image in photography terms). Ambiguity is not vagueness, with lack of meaning or context. With ambiguity there are many possible interpretations and the piece ‘speaks’ as opposed to vagueness where the image dissolves away, becoming voiceless.
I’m not saying Crewdson’s images are dead. I can see the Edward Hopper references and the psychological dramas and I can certainly see the visual allure but what I don’t see are writers, or even the photographer himself, defending the content of the work.
Michael Fried in his book Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before calls for writers to go deeper into contemporary photography. I think it is a pertinent rallying cry. To be concerned with what the photographs are saying rather than how they were made makes for a much more interesting dialogue yet so often the sensation surrounding ‘film sets’ seems to get all the critics talking.
So what was Crewdson’s motivation behind this intensive process? He says his work is all about the blending of fact and fiction but I find it hard to see much of real life in his images. It seems to me his work is actually about fantasy and fiction, but that’s another matter. Who has seen a fully naked, pregnant woman standing in the middle of the street at the perfectly lit twilight? No? Me neither.
So my question for you today is:
Does it matter what the photographer’s intention is in creating meaningful photographic art?