Walking into an exhibition of Gregory Crewdson’s large-scale prints is like time travel. This is particularly true of his black-and-white work, in which even living vegetation is rendered colorless and bleak. In this particular body of work, called “Eveningside,” after the neighborhood of Pittsfield, Massachusetts where the series was shot, Crewdson’s usual post-apocalyptic scenarios are even darker. The images beg to be written about or made into films. Film, after all, has been the inspiration for Crewdson’s work since he was a student at Yale, where he is now a professor and director of graduate photography studies. Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters” and David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” are huge inspirations, as are the images of Diane Arbus and the paintings of Edward Hopper, and all have crept their way into Crewdson’s work.
Crewdson’s sets are small towns, and he often drives around looking for them himself. His casting director, Juliane Hiam, is also his studio manager as well as being his life partner. It is her job to choose locals to be directed by Crewdson as characters in the photographs. Crewdson’s crews are often comprised of up to several dozen members who run the cranes, sort out the lighting and run the fog machines. It can take up to a month of shooting to create a single photograph, followed by several months to scan all the negatives and stitch them into a finished image.
In one image, “Burial Vault,” a young boy stands in the center of the road, his scooter on its side behind him. He stares intently at a white burial vault inexplicably standing in an open garage. In another, “The Departure,” a mother wrapped in a blanket watches as her daughter seems to be leaving in a car to which multiple suitcases are strapped to the roof. An image called “Jim’s House of Shoes” features a nearly bare store window with empty shoeboxes and a woman who appears to be trying on a pair of shoes, staring at herself in a mirror on the wall.
In “Morningside Home for Women,” a teenager stands in the street with her suitcase as the taxi that delivered her pulls away. In all of Crewdson’s images there is a sense of isolation and solitude—even those with multiple figures feel as if each person is completely alone, somehow separated from the others. The landscapes are bleak, the figures forlorn. Crewdson’s town appears to be incredibly insular, as if it is in the middle of nowhere.
This work, though otherworldly, is unquestionably amazing. It is haunting, sorrowful, and each image is a remarkable accomplishment, so cinematic it feels like an outline for a film, a short story or a novel. This is photography at its best—affecting, powerful and grimly beautiful.
“Gregory Crewdson: Eveningside” at Alan Koppel Gallery, 806 North Dearborn, on view through August 11.