CAN Research 5.1 Gregory Crewdson


Gregory Crewdson (1962) is an American photographer specialising in large-scale cinematic tableau style photographs. He describes himself as a Teller of elliptical stories (Crewdson, 2017). In other words, the stories he tells are mysterious. He describes the images as existing between reality and fiction hovering as a kind of question mark.

A central story?

When interviewed he consistently discusses the idea that every artist has one central story to tell and that their task is to retell it in original ways.

So what is Crewdson’s central story? His father was a professional psychoanalyst who practised from a consulting room situated below the living room in the family home. Crewdson’s earliest memories are of listening, his ear to the living room floor, to the conversations between his psychologist father and the patients. Too young to understand the conversations or what was going on below him he describes the images conjured in his mind as ‘mysterious, forbidden and secret’. The idea of finding secrets in everyday life has continued in his work ever since.

The psychological undertones

When discussing his work he describes seeking a perfect symmetry between beauty and sadness and then goes on to say that he wants to make them psychological in some ways.

I watched two lectures given by Crewdson during which he gives a retrospective of his work. He rarely discusses a specific picture in detail but for a few, he deliberately highlights a specific aspect almost as if to invite and encourage us to consider the psychological aspect of the scene. In the three examples below I describe what he specifically highlighted and partially deconstruct the image.

The pregnant girl

The image shows a poorly dressed young pregnant woman standing at amber traffic lights waiting to cross the road. The two points Crewdson made regarding this image were to say that he wanted to shoot across the road from a pregnancy centre and that, by sheer chance, he met a teenage girl coming out of the centre pregnant with twins.


This image shows a woman, presumably the mother, sitting with her back to a young baby. In his lecture, he tells us that the set was designed to represent Bates Hotel from the movie Psycho and that he wanted space between the mother and baby to create a sense of ambivalence.

The Firefighters

In this little known work two firefighters are seen starting to extinguish a building fire. His only comment about this image is that he likes the impotent stream of water coming out of the hose.

My own central story

Let me address the question of whether making beautiful photographs could legitimately be the primary goal of a picture. Thinking in terms of Terry Barrett’s ‘original context, the answer depends on what one is attempting to achieve. There is a reason to make, for example, beautiful wall art. Perhaps a cat lover may wish to have a beautiful picture of a cat on the wall to look at. But that’s not getting much of a message across to the viewer.

But if the objective is to tell a story, then one could also attempt to create beautiful imagery. One reason for doing so would be that such an image is more likely to be viewed. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that one with want a dark Antoine d’Agata image in the kitchen.

Antoine D’Agata Mexico, Tijuana, 2000.

It is too early for me to say what my main goal is at this stage. I am interested in producing art that causes debate or provokes thought about subjects which remain unspoken. As an example, my Assignment 5 submission concerning gaslighting (below) invites the viewer to decide if the lights are identical or if they are dimmed. Hopefully, they create doubt, which is one of the significant consequences of gaslighting. They are not beautiful, but perhaps they are intriguing.

If I am mad, be patient with me.


Crewdson, G. (2017). Trail log – the making of The Cathedral In The Pines. Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

Get In Touch

Send me an email and I'll get back to you asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search