Gregory Crewdson

Born: 1962, Brooklyn, NY
B.A., SUNY Purchase, New York, 1985; M.F.A. Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven Connecticut, 1988
Lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut

Gregory Crewdson’s carefully staged photographs concentrate on a tension between domesticity and nature. In his most recent series photographed in Massachusetts, the artist employed a large production crew to create eerie special effects reminiscent of horror/sci-fi movies. The characters in his elaborate constructions act subconsciously, as if under the spell of a foreign entity. Their unusual actions suggest a mysterious narrative involving supernatural contact. Crewdson has acknowledged Steven Spielberg’s film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as a primary influence. In that movie, an average American man is emotionally and psychically changed after contact with a UFO. Like the character in the film, Crewdson’s subjects perform eccentric, ritual-like acts.

In Crewdson’s earlier photographic series entitled “Natural Wonder,” the artist fabricated intricate sets in his studio. The images, which resemble hyper-real, often gruesome dioramas, allude to an enigmatic presence in nature. For his next series, “Hover,” the artist moved out of his studio to photograph suburban scenes from bird’s eye view (or from the view from a hovering spacecraft). These photographs present pictures of American life gone awry – a man attempts to sod the street in front of his home, a neighbor mows circular patterns in his lawn, etc. Crewdson focuses on the backyard, a hybrid space where man and nature meet.

The Broad Art Foundation owns photographs from the artist’s most recent series entitled “Twilight.” In these works, Crewdson explores the iconography of the American suburban landscape and nature, revealing psychological anxieties, fears, and longings. The inclusion of domestic items (soap boxes, milk containers, a detergent box, etc.) play on our fears about tampering with the balance of nature. These scenes of the twilight hour, when both natural and artificial lights are available, suggest a moment of metamorphosis.

Crewdson explores stereotypes about art making through his images of obsessive-compulsive behavior driven by the sublime. In The Broad Art Foundation’s photograph, Untitled, 1999, a woman has created a sculpture of flowers in her garage. As voyeurs, we are fascinated by the extraordinary acts of a person who would risk the destruction of home, family, and self for the sake of one’s masterpiece. The figure’s motivation to make this pile, like the motivation to create art, is depicted as all possessing. Crewdson portrays an artist who attends to a transcendental calling as if on autopilot.

As a professor of photography at Yale University, Crewdson has been deeply influential on his students, and a forerunner of a group of photographers that make use of carefully assembled models, and “staged” elements. These artists blend traditional documentary photography styles with fictional elements. By employing such technique, the photographer no longer passively experiences the world and then edits it, but is an active individual that creates the world and then photographs it.

Five photographs by Crewdson are included in the Foundation collection.

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