Gregory Crewdson, an American artist renowned for his elaborately devised photographs of small-town life, digs into the commonplace and familiar to find images that are haunting, surreal and—most agree—profoundly unnerving. (Though Crewdson himself, we discovered, finds his work essentially “optimistic.”)
With production teams and set budgets that rival those of entire films, Crewdson chronicles moments of disconnect—downcast eyes, faces turned away—in expansive portraits of people lost in thought, isolated and inaccessible, both to each other and to the viewer.
His images are rich in detail, and there is not a thing in the frame—not a stain, not a lampshade—that he does not carefully select. And yet, this abundance of detail is balanced with a striking lack of information—the settings are ordinary (a suburban kitchen, a living room, a dark street corner)—and, more importantly, the frame is de-contextualized: we don’t know what happens before or after, or who these people even are.
The effect of this combination of visual detail and narrative restraint is that there are as many narratives possible for each of his images as there are viewers of it: each person comes to the image with their own anxieties and desires, which they project onto the scene. To commemorate the release of Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (a documentary tracing his decades of work), Crewdson sat down with The American Reader to talk about the limitations of photography, the challenge of human connection, and the overlap between the two.