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“I feel naked all of a sudden.” Gregory Crewdson gives the game away.

 

Gregory Crewdson, fully clothed

Gregory Crewdson, fully clothed

 

 

I want to thank the College Group at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a real treat yesterday evening. To tie in with the museum’s excellent current show “Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography,” celebrity-photographer Gregory Crewdson talked about his work and introduced one of his favorite movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Mr Crewdson is one of the key artists in the “Reality Check” show, and, as one might expect of a Yale professor, an excellent speaker. He is an artist whose work deals in mystery, so not surprisingly he was somewhat reticent about the content of his own work, but he was great value for money when talking about the influences that “shaped me as an artist.” In fact, so forthright was Mr Crewdson about his role models, and so careful in which examples of their work he showed, that he often seemed to be describing his own photographs. 

 

Edward Hopper, "Morning Sun" 1952

Edward Hopper, "Morning Sun" (1952)

 

He started with Edward Hopper, whom he smilingly dubbed ”a great photographer.” The connection with his own work was palpable when he pointed out that, in Hopper, “there’s always an implied narrative that’s never resolved, and an undercurrent of sadness, a sense of being alone.”

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled (Blue Period)" (2004)

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled (Blue Period)" (2004)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We’re always looking into a frame,” he pointed out, “then into another frame and another frame, and this creates a level of voyeurism.” What he didn’t add is that while this is deliberately unsettling in his own work, it is exactly what many of us find downright unwholesome in Hopper’s.

 

Next, the 1955 movie Night of the Hunter, which he suggested is set in “a small American town that is made to seem a place of secrets and intrigue and horror.” Precisely where his own unnerving visions seem to occur.

Still from "the Night of the Hunter" (1955)

"The Night of the Hunter" (1955)

 

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled (Nude Woman in Trailer)" (2004)

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled (Nude Woman in Trailer)" (2004)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diane Arbus was his next touchstone. He recalled that when he was ten years old his father took him to her posthumous MoMA retrospective. This was “my first inkling of the power of photography,” he told us. He showed examples of William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld, and Steven Shore (“his photographs take place in the American vernacular”) and Joel Sternfeld, and then he showed us a clip from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

 

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)

He reminded us that as Richard Dreyfuss’s character is compulsively building miniature versions of the strange outcrop of land where the alien encounter will eventually take place, he keeps muttering to himself, “this is important, this is meaningful,” and suggested that this was precisely the sort of stumbling obsession that most artists are driven by.

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled" (1999)

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled" (1999)

Then we had Larry Sultan, Ang Lee’s movie The Ice Storm (“one thing that all these images have in common, even when they’re dealing with horror, is an extraordinary sense of beauty”), Jeff Wall (whose work demonstrated “the intersection between reality and theatricality”), David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (“a film that changed my life; it forever changed my view of the world”); Cindy Sherman; Nan Goldin; Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (specifically the plague of frogs scene). By the time he got to his own work he was fast running out of time, so he just flicked through his images in silence. But in truth he’d said – and demonstrated – enough. In fact he admitted, “I’m very embarrassed. I’ve just given away all of my sources.” Perhaps not all of them – for there is in Mr Crewdson’s work a beguiling unease that is entirely his own – but he had certainly given us a great deal to reflect upon as we watched the Hitchcock.

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