Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brief Encounters (Rhoades)

Gregory Crewdson’s
Photographs Are
“Brief Encounters”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

For more than forty years I have collected original photographs by famous photographers – Weston, Penn, Ansel Adams, you name them. But I have never owned a photograph by Gregory Crewdson. Not surprising. Some of his oversized images sell for better than $100,000. Pricey.
But when you examine the images you can see why. The composition is as meticulous as a scene from a movie, a grand staging that sometimes involves a whole town or a manufactured set or a post-production crew manipulating images.
“Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” – the documentary playing this week at the Tropic Cinema – explores the lensman’s work.
Crewdson’s photographs are more akin to making a movie – well, one frame of a movie – quite unlike those “Decisive Moment” photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson. And yet Crewdson’s images also capture one moment in time, but staged, as mysterious as a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film, leaving the viewer to wonder what came before or what is about to happen after. The “moment of the picture,” it’s been called.
As a young man Greg Crewdson studied photography at Yale. A documentary approach was in favor at the time, the photographer tasked with looking for a poetic meaning of life, catching a photo “on the run.” But this curious student was taking the train into New York City where he encountered exhibits by photographers like Cindy Sherman, the images comprised of contrived scenes, just the opposite of what he was being taught. He became inspired by the eerie work of Diane Arbus.
So he changed his way of seeing, of photographing. His work took on a cinematic approach. At first he built tableaux influenced by museum dioramas. Then he took to using cranes, photographing streets and other landscapes from an aerie viewpoint. Without permissions, without permits. And finally he was orchestrating detailed compositions of people and houses and streets and towns – everything precisely in its place, like a movie set, a moment where you “don’t have to think about the plot or the storyline or character development” to “get” the photograph.
His photographs reflect “lives of quiet desperation,” although friends describe Crewdson as a “fairly lighthearted easygoing guy who’s awfully funny.” But he has a macabre side, taking joy from swimming in a lake where the body of a 70-year-old unknown man was discovered the day before.
His characters are posed in mid-movement, often seen through windows or doorways, a voyeuristic intrusion that is left unexplained. Brief encounters indeed.
This insightful documentary explains the photographic mission of Gregory Crewdson as it follows him from set to set, photograph to photograph, exhibit to exhibit.
I wish I could afford one of his mysterious images for my collection.

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