Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines
The Photographers Gallery
UNTIL 8th OCTOBER
When I posted images of this exhibition on instagram, somebody commented on how ‘photorealistic’ the images looked. Which of course I found amusing, since they are photographs. But in reality he wasn’t far off, as it demonstrates just how staged-looking Gregory Crewdson’s photographs really are, almost as if they were a 19th century painting. Crewdson does indeed plan and direct his visual creations down to the last detail. In fact, he has a sizeable crew behind him.
Crewdson presents three floors (the first time the gallery has allowed the entire gallery space to be dedicated to one artist) of his series Cathedral of the Pines produced between 2013 and 2014. The name came to him in a sign (literally) for a section of the Appalachian Trail called Cathedral of the Pines, and he immediately knew that this was his title.
The series comprises of 31 visual depictions of human relationships within the suburban and natural environment of Becket, Massachusetts (typical small town America, which he knew from his childhood) and between the ‘characters’ that inhabit it. Mothers and daughters, sisters, husbands and wives- Crewdson shoots interior scenes charged with deep emotional intimacy and unspoken agreements. They are uncanny as the figures loom within their environments; the narratives are ambiguous, but immediately familiar. I suppose the most familiar are those of a figure alone, such as Woman at Sink, 2014. A middle aged woman stands at the sink (who woulda guessed it) , but staring off into the distance. Perhaps she is looking out of the window, but her eyes are glazed over. Her hand rests on a damp cloth, and the kitchen surfaces are still sopping wet.
The images have a heavy quietness that is almost oppressive, and full of Hollywood suspense that unsettles you at the core. Perhaps it is the carefully controlled lighting- artificial and striking, that lends the image a sense of spiritual intensity. In past work, Crewdson has shut down entire streets and set up lights in the sky complete with snow and rain machines to capture his vision, but this project required only the careful control of the winter evening light and shadow. The storylines are of course fiction, but their realities are born out of Crewdson’s own recent problematic relationship (and subsequent divorce). The subjects consist of friends and family, rather than actors, including his partner Juliane Hiam and her daughter, Harper. Still, I have a sense that these storylines are ones that I have also lived before.
The visual stories Crewdson loves to tell are shortly to become a full feature film reality as he prepares his next project Reflective Light, based on Carla Buckley’s novel The Deepest Secret about a boy allergic to the sun and living in the dark in a small American down in the 1980s.
“Lights, Camera, Action!”