Crewdson is known for his meticulously planned, cinematic ‘frames’. This exhibition, Cathedral of the Pines, is said to be his most personal to date.
Up until this point my relationship with Crewdson’s work was mixed. On one hand it is impossible not to be full of admiration for the depth of planning, choreography and technical quality in each image.
In fact I would describe his work as a Hollywood movie lasting just 1/125th of a second.
But is it too clinical? How much of Crewdson am I really seeing here, or is it sanitised and synthesised? Is it so objectively, so precisely, reconstructed that it loses the essence of the original idea?
Looking wider, how much of the recognition should go to his numerous crew instead? Does it matter that a ‘Director of Photography’ is employed to do a lot of the thinking?
Does it matter whether or not he actually presses the shutter:
There are recurring themes in the works: Bare bulbs; cars with open doors; semi naked ladies staring blankly; sheds or outside toilets. The holes in the ground – reminiscent of his tales of his his father’s psychotherapist practice on the basement of his childhood home.
There is a curious portrayal of the genders too. The female is seen in many images as naked, wet hair, staring forward at nothing obvious. The signifiers are of vulnerability and introspection. By contrast only one male is shown completely naked, but safely cocooned within the steel shell of his VW Camper.
It is tempting to treat each image as an intellectual puzzle, knowing that each and every element in the image is placed deliberately the brain tries to ‘solve’ the riddle. I found myself trying to find the reason for every included element like a scene of crime detective. Like an accountant going over a balance sheet, I felt that everything should be objectified rather than left as a subjective artistic view.
But it dawned on me that the opposite might actually be true. Since every element is a faithful reproduction of Crewdson’s original vision for the photograph, it could equally be argued that we are seeing a reproduction that is very faithful indeed. Like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork – everything uncannily replicated, true to his original idea.
Why the recurring themes like car doors and blankly staring ladies? Is Crewdson moving the key elements of his mind around, juxtaposing them in different scenarios? We all have recurring thoughts and dreams that we seek to reconcile as part of our life work. How therapeutic is it for Crewdson to analyse, dissect and reconstruct these inner thoughts?
Indeed, a fellow student on the visit questioned whether we would similarly challenge a painter, having spent months meticulously working on an oil painting. Clearly we would not. On reflection it seems unfair to challenge Crewdson for being so meticulous about his work.
I initially found this exhibition difficult for the reasons outlined. As well as gaining a much better understanding of his work, I came away with great respect for Crewdson as an individual too, not just for the sheer technical accomplishment, but for the almost obsessive attention to detail to faithfully create what is in his mind.
With this in mind, the work is surely authentic and courageous because I now know that he did not miss out anything at all in what he is showing us about his inner thoughts. The interpretation is left up me – and I’m not the psychotherapist here.