Gregory Crewdson, Cathedral of Pines
"As individual pieces the starkness of silence penetrates, as a group of images the silence intensifies to an almost overwhelming volume"...
This summer sees American artist, Gregory Crewdson, take over three floors at The Photographers' Gallery, London. His series 'Cathedral of Pines', produced between 2013 and 2014, departs from the photographer's usual interest in Edward Hopper-like suburban scenes and delves into the intricacies of human relations, set among the more natural environment of the small rural town of Becket, Massachusetts. Shots are meticulously crafted in Becket's surrounding forests, including the trail from which the series takes its title, and interior scenes are charged with ambiguous and tense narratives, quiet spaces infused with the struggles of human connection, intimacy and isolation.
As individual pieces the starkness of silence penetrates, as a group of images the silence intensifies to an almost overwhelming volume - but that seems to be the point. Crewdson manages to depict painful isolation and disconnect through his scrupulous attention to detail; every angle of light, every prop, every surface texture has been selected, considered and utilised for maximum impact. In Reclining Woman on Sofa (above), the striking image of the limp female figure, laying solemnly on the sofa in frozen contemplation, mirrors the curved coffee table in the middle of the room sat parallel to its owner, its table top flesh-like, its legs splayed, feeling for stability.
Crewdson has talked about his favouring of certain props: dirty blankets, pill bottles, glasses of water, or potentially alcohol, all of which add to a sense of compacted narrative. Clues accumulate, allowing the viewer to imagine a before and after, to discover some understanding of the image in suspense. But also utilised are the positioning of the subjects captured, never is eye contact made, sometimes only the back of a figure is seen, bringing into focus a breakdown in communication, a rejection - or failure - of human intimacy and closeness.
Written by Amy Moffat
Energy and vibrancy isn't completely neglected in Crewdson's scenes, however any fresh vitality is swiftly squashed or remains ungraspable; birds lay lifeless in an empty shoe box lid, colourful flowers scatter the surfaces in at least two of the photographs in Cathedral of the Pines, massacred, cut into pieces and mourned. Rivers move swiftly past the gazing subjects, their eyes staring at life in motion, while they stand motionless.
Each image conveys a desperately sad loss of hope, but there is beauty to be found in the details of each exacting positioning of a prop, of light draping a scene, in the textures of the carefully chosen surfaces. For a cinematic experience that resonates as much in painting as it does in photography, we highly recommend catching this exhibition, on until the 8th October, at The Photographers' Gallery, London.
To gain real insight into the depth of preparation and meticulous care taken over every single shot, take a look at the trailer for Ben Shapiro's film about the man himself, Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters.