Above image: Gregory Crewdson, The Shed (detail), 2014. © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
In the exhibition Cathedral of the Pines, currently on view at The Photographers’ Gallery, Gregory Crewdson departs from his interest in uncanny suburban subjects and explores human relations within more natural environments. In images that recall nineteenth-century American and European paintings, Crewdson photographs figures posing within the small rural town of Becket, Massachusetts, and its vast surrounding forests, including the actual trail from which the series takes its title. Interior scenes charged with ambiguous narratives probe tensions between human connection and separation, intimacy and isolation.
Crewdson describes this project as ‘his most personal’, venturing to retrieve in the remote setting of the forest, a reminiscence of his childhood. The images in Cathedral of the Pines, located in the dystopian landscape of the anxious American imagination, create atmospheric scenes, many featuring local residents, and for the first time in Crewdson’s work, friends and family. In Woman at Sink, a woman pauses from her domestic chores, lost in thought. In Pickup Truck, Crewdson shows a nude couple in the flatbed of a truck in a dense forest—the woman seated, the man turned away in repose. Crewdson situates his disconsolate subjects in familiar settings, yet their cryptic actions—standing still in the snow, or nude on a riverbank—hint at invisible challenges. Precisely what these challenges are, and what fate awaits these anonymous figures, are left to the viewer’s imagination.
Crewdson’s careful crafting of visual suspense conjures forebears such as Diane Arbus, Alfred Hitchcock, and Edward Hopper, as well as the influence of Hollywood cinema and directors such as David Lynch. In Cathedral of the Pines, Crewdson’s persistent psychological leitmotifs evolve into intimate figurative dramas.
Visually alluring and often deeply disquieting, these tableaux are the result of an intricate production process: For more than twenty years, Crewdson has used the streets and interiors of small-town America as settings for photographic incarnations of the uncanny. Working with a large crew, he plans his images as meticulously as any movie director.