For the better part of twenty years photographer and artist Gregory Crewdson hasn’t so much beet taking pictures as much as he’s been taking carefully crafted stills for films that don’t exist. The Yale University professor has become renowned for setting up elaborate productions on sound stages and on location for what it normally costs to make a low budget independent film, and it’s not for a single take, but a single brief snapshot of life in the most scrupulous sense.
In Ben Shapiro’s profile of the artist, Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, casual observers, cineastes, and art lovers will all get a great sense of the painstaking detail that goes into these works that showcase the darker side of small town life while drawing particular attention to the artifice all around us.
Combining his own dark fears about society and a latent economic message that he almost openly denies having and believes to be more unconscious than anything else, Crewdson rolls into small towns where everyone knows him by name and he’s well respected with crews and equipment that many smaller productions would kill to have a shot at using. Influenced at an early age by Diane Arbus to become a photographer, Crewdson began taking more and more inspiration from the darker sides of famous directors like Spielberg, Hitchcock, Lynch, and Todd Haynes. He doesn’t refer to his work as photographs as much as he likes to call them psychological dramas, and the comparison is certainly apt.
Including interviews with various writers, crew members, and contemporaries and shot over the course of a decade, Shapiro (Paul Goodman Changed My Life) takes a low-fi approach to following Crewdson around his sets that allows the actual work behind his images to show through. The large scale productions and attention to detail come through splendidly as Shapiro documents the location scouting, casting, and shooting style of Crewdson, also while taking a look at what happens when things don’t quite go according to plan. His love of shooting at twilight and dusk doesn’t make things easier in terms of set up, and given the economic nature of his work sometimes the very houses he wants to use for location shoots can be torn down the very next day. The world around him may change, but Crewdson works were certainly designed to stand the test of time despite – much like real life- everything going back to normal the day after he made them.