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September 9, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts | [ssba]

Gregory Crewdson, In a Lonely Place, City Gallery

“…the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.” – Walker Evans

I had not been into the Wellington City Gallery for close to a year when I went in, seeking refuge from the cold on the first day of spring. Gregory Crewdson’s photographs from his series Beneath the Roses would be running only for another week. I am grateful for chance—for had I missed this, I would have missed seeing loneliness itself hang before me in the form of gelatine prints.

Crewdson’s photographs are like that feeling when you recognise the unsympathetic light of dusk—the ‘bad time’ as I unaffectionately call it—when one realises another day has ended, as it did yesterday and will do tomorrow, and you remain very, very small and insignificant, existing and little else through endless numbered days. They are the lonely place. Crewdson, a Brooklyn native (of New York, not Wellington), has staged these photographs and set them in the much-familiar and endlessly exercised image of Americana country—and he’s done it well. It’s the America that you may remember from such works as Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks or Grant Wood’s American Gothic or Gary Ross’ 1998 film Pleasantville, or even, in the pictures of her restricted social circle, the work of Nan Goldin. And like their work, he transcends a sentiment that we can recognise—one hard to describe with words and easier to understand with images.

Crewdson stages photographs embodying our normative state of loneliness, and considers both the internal and external manifestations of the condition. They cause a reflection upon our unnatural tendency to deny ourselves loneliness, to prevent and eradicate it. But we see that it’s not all bad; perhaps it should not even be feared. Crewdson’s photos are dark and dramatised, theatricised almost, but truthful in their starkness, emanating something whose familiarity is in an odd fashion equally warming and eerie. The way in which he created each like a movie set is equally impressive, the importance of each detail emphasised because everything is there for a reason. He hasn’t just photographed scenes of loneliness, he’s essentially designed them; the light, the people, the places, the junk on the street, the abandoned car, the snow. All of it makes you feel cold inside.

Move over Lester Burnham, Gregory Crewdson is the new king of the human condition.


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