Research Task:​ Gregory Crewdson

  1. Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  2. Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? Whatdoes this mean?
  3. 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’m interested in the question of narrative, how photography is distinct from, but connected to, other narrative forms like writing and film. This idea of creating a moment that’s frozen and mute, that perhaps ultimately asks more questions than it answers, proposes an open-ended and ambiguous narrative that allows the viewer to, in a sense, complete it. Ultimately, I’m interested in this ambiguous moment that draws the viewer in through photographic beauty, through repulsion, through some kind of tension.” – Gregory Crewsdon

Gregory Crewdson’s images (for this author) are like mini-movies to be poured over and picked apart to unlock their meaning. They are perfectly composed and crafted, and he uses the toolset of movie making to highlight elements of a scene as well as planting clues in the settings. His complex use of light lends atmosphere and helps, in some images, to communicate psychological tensions at play.

What I am interested in, is, that moment of transcendence, where one is transported into another place, into a perfect, still world.

His work is meticulously planned with careful attention to every detail, using light, colour, and set design to create scenes pregnant with suspense, tension and the surreal- as result, his images have an instantly recognisable aesthetic that is as much part of the narrative as the characters or subject they portray. There is more to his images than just expertly crafted scenes; each one requires a lot of looking to appreciate their meanings plugging the viewer into multiple worlds; for example, the image ‘family dinner’, has multiple scenes- the family at the dinner table and its obvious tensions (who hasn’t been there?)-the girl, head down- annoyed, and the son in a face-off with the father, then the surreal vision of the mother? naked having dragged dirt into the house, plunges the image into something surreal and separate from the dinner table narrative.

Many of Crewdson’s images can be termed ‘phycological’ in that they suggest an uncomfortable underlying narrative, voyeurism, or tensions between people (untitled 2007, untitled 2007), evoking feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as displacement and despair. Others, for example, untitled from the series twilight 2001 or madison-01-from-beneath-the-roses, remind us of movies we have seen as the settings feel familiar and alien simultaneously. Although perfectly crafted and aesthetically unique, his images offer a lot more than beauty, inviting the viewer to engage in a narrative to fill in the gaps or as Arthur Lublow writing for the New York Times commented

‘…the lighting is so portentous and the isolation and hopelessness so exaggerated that these scenes have always reminded me of Technicolor film stills from a 1950s melodrama — a kitschy imitation of life.’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/20/arts/design/gregory-crewdson-berkshires-photography.html accessed 08/08/2022)
(The same article also comments on the impact of the passing of time and situation and how the lockdown due to covid pandemic has changed how people view his photos)
…Until now. In the current locked-down world, which is hollowed out by economic collapse and fragmented by fear of contagion, Mr. Crewdson’s overwrought images seem like faithful representations of our frazzled psychological state. “It’s weird how all my pictures have taken on a new meaning,” he said.
There is obviously more to Crewdson’s work than just aesthetic beauty, the combination of great craft, symbolism, composition, lighting and subject matter, tap into psychological and cultural references making it a fertile experience for viewers to unpick.

When looking at Crewdons’s images I’m not sure I’d class them as ‘beauty’ but rather expertly crafted images. For sure this type of craft lends an aesthetic beauty of its own but there are many elements within Crewdson’s images that work on the viewer-aesthetic craft is one for sure, but often his images contain symbols and references that create a dialog with the viewer-albeit deceptively so.

Photography offers so many possibilities that when I set up to take or make images, it depends on what I have in mind -or not. Sometimes I simply take images to record an event -bear witness that it happened or I was there etc. Other times I plan my images and have a specific goal in mind-beauty would not always be foremost as a goal but rather a coming together of many elements to hopefully communicate with the viewer. I don’t see nay problem with making beauty your goal but it might limit your creative possibilities.