By William Hadwen
Ben Shapiro’s documentary Brief Encounters, released October 2012, follows Gregory Crewdson’s photographic process during the making of his 8 year long series Beneath The Roses. Predominantly set in small-town American suburbia of western Massachusetts, he observes and presents a very unique cinematic photographic style, showing scenes of romanticised, ficticious, almost fantastical moments of contemplation and urban decay.
The film is very affecting, narrated primarily by interviews with the artist and also various writers and people who Crewdson works with to create this sublime imagery. A psychological tension festers in worlds that are seemingly real, searching for a moment – a perfect moment, with real characters who he has generally found locally. The viewing experience is enhanced by a very simple and mesmerising piano soundtrack.
Crewdson talks a lot about his own life within his work, drawing from past experience and observation. His father was a psychoanalyst with his practice in a room under the family home – young Gregory was not allowed in and it was always a place of ambiguity, curiosity and mystery. A fascination for what lies beneath really does come through in his work.
Each image is narrative based but without plot or character development, simply providing a tableau with real characters and an atmosphere accentuated with smoke machines and an excess of carefully considered lighting – it is up to the viewer to figure out the details for themselves and become immersed in the image. A very presonal narrative to anyone who takes the time to work it out.
The images in this series project a sense of social dilapidation, people and places perpetually aging, consumed with neglect and incompleteness. Depressingly fluorescent in their desperate dependence on the flawed American Dream.
With regard to his influences, Crewdson seems rather taken by scenarios that are initially inviting but with emerging unsettling and sinister potentialities, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and photographic works by Dianne Arbus. He is also known for directly referencing old movies such as Psycho –the hotel room used in one of Crewdson’s images, Untitled (Birth), looks very similar to that used in the film – there really are these layers, depths of understanding to his works that can reveal themselves over time. The Psycho reference really gives the image a disturbing atmosphere that I only suspected as a worst case scenario.
There is a real sense of ambiguity within his imagery, a blurring of reality and fiction.