I had the very special privilege over the weekend of catching a show here at the local Wellington City Gallery (just before it closed – bad Dave!) by none other than Gregory Crewdson. Anyone who’s into their photography should know who is, widely recognised as one of the most influential photographers in recent times, his work is stunning. Frankly it’s a real honour to have it here in Wellington. It was also a real honour to have Ben Shapiro’s documentary about Crewdson titled ‘Brief Encounters’ aired here recently – even if it might have had something to do with me pestering Ben on Facebook and sending him all the contact details of every half-decent cinema and film festival in New Zealand.
Crewdson’s work has influenced many, most of whom will have more talent in their little finger than I’d ever dream of, but I have to confess to having a real connection with his stuff myself. He’s known for the work ‘Beneath the Roses’ a series of haunting, massively produced scenes of backwater American life with lonely and isolated souls set into most of the images. They’re so over the top in terms of vision and control of each image, of exacting attention to detail that the scope of how his mind works to control so tightly and produce such freedom baffles me – in all the right ways. I’ve found a sense of similarity in that series of images in how and why I shoot the landscapes I shoot, of trying to create vast emptiness on which to portray the most delicate meanings.
They say art should move you, and though I’ve seen images from Beneath the Roses many times, I stood in the room with a lump in my throat. I know you bring to art your own agendas and visions, but rarely have I stood in front of an artwork and felt as moved.
What surprised me beyond that, however, was seeing the other two bodies of work on display, the earlier ‘Fireflys’ and the more recent ‘In a Lonely Place.’ Fireflys was technically nothing compared to Beneath the Roses, there’s no construction, no theatre, just dark film photographs showing the paths of lights created as fireflys flew through the scene at night. I felt that most people walked into the room and walked out again in a few minutes, like they couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Personally I saw the common theme of barren and bleak nothings made real and just about tangible by the existence of life even if only a fabrication of science as opposed to reality by being a long exposure on a piece of film. What I saw was the messages loud and clear, done in such a different way. There was one image I could hang on my wall and stare at til the day I die.
The more recent images ‘In a Lonely Place’ taken on an old Italian movie set were something I hadn’t held high hopes for – Shapiro’s documentary made them seem somewhat of an afterthought compared to the consideration and scale of Beneath the Roses. Again I watched many walk into the gallery, see the images as black and white and walk out early short changed because they were being robbed of Crewdson’s mastery of light and colour. Yet the messages were clear again, images of old set pieces, shown unabashed as constructions not reality – telling a story of life being nothing more than a construction and of a space being nothing more than a stage for make belief. There were countless beautiful touches in the way the images were composed which intimated deconstruction, scaffolding suspended in odd ways mid-air, doing nothing more than be a part decomposed structure; of bricks crumbling like tetris blocks like some binary decay – they weren’t old things looking ruined, they were commentaries on shattering the illusions of seeing something real. There’s a double irony in implying loneliness by photographing empty spaces, and then showing that even those are constructions of something else you cannot see.
I dunno why I’m typing this – perhaps it’s my first real blog post on here which is a mind dump of things as opposed to a pseudo announcement of new work. But the pictures moved me and I felt the need to say something.
Learnings? Go to see more art. Be slightly alarmed when the work of a photographer who’s well recognised as being a little bit off the beaten track speaks to you inside. Keep shooting bleak things. Gregory Crewdson really kinda rocks…
I did take a few iPhone photos, for which I got told off. Except I’m not taking images to replicate and rip the artist off, I’m taking them as mementos of something significant and of proving I was there worshiping at the alter of all that is holy about kick-ass photography.