My pictures are about search for a moment, a perfect moment. . .
Something always necessarily goes wrong. . . .
~ Photographer Gregory Crewdson
Producer, director, and cinematographer Ben Shapiro spent a decade making his film Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. His fascinating documentary is an effort to discover what impels Crewdson, an award-winning Brooklyn-based photographer whose work is in numerous public collections and has been shown in museums throughout Europe, to devote days, weeks, even months to methodical creation of images that depict what is at once both real and not.
Poster for Ben Shapiro Documentary
Crewdson, who teaches in the graduate photography program at Yale University's School of Art, uses photography to, as he says, draw out "something psychological" from the ordinary he finds in suburban America. He travels with a crew of lighting, set, and production designers — the kind of contingent a Hollywood movie-maker might employ — to small New England towns like Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he literally directs or stage-manages the production of the images he sees in his mind's eye. In addition to working on location, he uses domestic interiors constructed to his specifications and yielding a narrative that's started but never finished. His images or tableaus, as he describes them, ultimately look like movie stills; the atmospheric shots, often large in scale, are beautiful (notice the lighting especially and the care taken with placement and arrangement of objects) but filled with silence; they're emotionally unstill, raising questions — about the subject and location, what did or might have happened — for which the viewer must conjure his or her own answer. (His typical title is "Untitled", although his image series tend to be named.) You cannot look just once at one of Crewdson's photos and not be struck by its sense of isolation and the underscored loneliness or sadness, and even after looking many times you're left to wonder.
Here's the trailer for Brief Encounters:
In this interview at Nowness, Crewdson, who says "the most important thing is to create a beautiful picture," talks about his artistic vision and process and his influences.
The documentary opened at New York City's Film Forum last October. It was screened in 2012 at the Newport Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, Independent Film Festival Boston, Woods Hole Film Festival, and Savannah Film Festival (SCAD). Go here for a list of current screenings.
Gregory Crewdson Interviews at The American Reader, BOMB Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, SITE Santa Fe
Selected Books of Crewdson's Photographs: Sanctuary (Abrams, 2010), Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses (Abrams, 2008 ), Gregory Crewdson from 1985 to 2005 (Htje Cantz, 2005), Hover (ArtSpace Books, 2005), Twilight (Abrams, 2002), Gregory Crewdson: Dream of Life (University of Salamanca, 1999)