Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines

Photograph by Christopher Peterson:

Photograph by Christopher Peterson:

At Paris Photo 2016, I had the chance to see some of Gregory Crewdson’s work up close and this included a selection from his most recent work, Cathedral of the Pines, which is also available as a photobook (see References section).

According to the Aperture site: Gregory Crewdson was born in Brooklyn in 1962 and is a graduate of SUNY Purchase and the Yale School of Art, where he is now Director of Graduate Studies in Photography. His work has been exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, including a survey that toured throughout Europe from 2001 to 2008.

Cathedral of the Pines

Woman at Sink, Cathedral of the Pines Series, 2014

Woman at Sink, 2014

According to the Time Magazine article (Rachel Lowry, 2016):

“In 2011, fine-art photographer Gregory Crewdson left New York to live in a solitary church in the Berkshires. Coping with a difficult divorce, he found renewal in daily open-water swims and cross-country skiing on the wooded paths of the Appalachian Trail. There, he stumbled upon a trail called Cathedral of the Pineswhich inspired new images.”

The Barn, 2013

The Barn, 2013

Crewdson has a particular style, often called cinematic, which is very distinctive. He makes photographs in the same way as a movie director: with a large crew and careful control over lighting and composition.

This particular approach is noted in the Time article as being a result of his love of vintage films. On Crewdson’s Wikipedia page, he is quoted as citing the films VertigoThe Night of the HunterClose Encounters of the Third KindBlue Velvet, and Safe as having influenced his style. The pair of photos reproduced here are typical examples: everything is carefully arranged, the lighting is controlled to highlight certain elements and to hide others.

The Time article describes his approach in some detail:

“His movie-like productions have seen months of advance planning, with Crewdson verifying the placement of each tiny detail, from a wet sponge left on a countertop to a crumpled fleece blanket discarded beside a couch. Shot with large-format cameras, filming requires more than 40 crew members familiar with motion-picture-film equipment and techniques.”

In Photography and Cinema (2008), David Campany makes the point that “Gregory Crewdson makes narrative cinematic photographs, yet at the heart of all his spectacular productions is the same basic human gesture: an exhausted person standing or sitting, slump-shouldered and vacant”.

For me personally, Crewdson’s work is all about narrative. Short (2011) describes narrative as generally consisting of a beginning, middle and end. She goes on to say that “however, a photographic narrative may not necessarily follow this structure, for example, it may simply imply what has past [sic] or suggest what may happen”. Crewdson’s photos, and especially in this series have a sense of mystery. There’s a strong sense that something has happened, or may happen and we’re seeing just a part of a bigger story, in the same way as seeing a still from a film. His work is not at all about constructing a narrative post-hoc from a found situation, rather, it is about building the narrative from the ground up by taking careful control over all aspects.

Woman in Parked Car, 2014

Woman in Parked Car, 2014

If we look at Woman in Parked Car, 2014, we see a great example of narrative in action. The door of the car is open, suggesting that the driver left the car. The woman in the car is clearly lit which makes the link with the man in the house who is also highlighted. The door of the house is open, suggesting that perhaps the man was the driver. Are we seeing the aftermath of a fight? What has happened? What will happen? There is a sense of light everywhere – there are no deep shadows in the entire image – suggesting clarity, but in fact, there is no clarity at all. In the end, we are left with a sense of mystery, as is usually the case with Crewdson’s work.


Campany, David (2008) Photography and Cinema. Reaktion Books

Crewdson, Gregory (2016) Cathedral of the Pines. Aperture

Lowry, Rachel (2016) Discover Gregory Crewdson’s New Surreal Photographs. At: (Accessed 10 Jan 2017)

Short, Maria (2011) Creative Photography: Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA


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