Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines

by sfe medusa


Gregory Crewdson’s first UK exhibition of new works created between 2013 and 2014 at The Photographer’s Gallery is a move away from capturing his subjects getting mysteriously UFO-d straight out of the driveways on deserted Hollywood sets and more ‘lonely Massachusetts housewife smothers entire family and waits to be Fargo’d’.
Ultimately, something in Cathedral of the Pines feels much more realistic and human, but the works still maintain his signature unsettling, eerie scenes.

It’s well worth seeing in the flesh to get the full scale of the “How the hell did he light that” sentiment; his works are so detailed that they feel composited, resulting in a heightened aesthetic both in the physical objects and laden atmosphere.

It feels as if every one of his subjects has meticulously planned and carried out some kind of base brutality and we’re exposed to the aftermath; the committer has the intensely numb demeanour of someone at a complete loss. Or perhaps these unnerving expressions, on the verge of appearing possessed, are actually the result of human relationships gone rotten. I don’t know which explanation is scarier.

It’s good fun creating names and back-stories for each photograph, inventing reasons for the intensity, guilt and pensiveness pervading each one, and I think of songs to accompany each work, because as they stand nothing breathes in them except the water.
Every song I pick makes the subject look lost, dejected, apathetic, through with life. I find the numbness contagious, and somehow the gravities of the tableaux are lifted. It is everyday, not dramatic.

Does it gradually darken? This is the first time the gallery has shown just one artist in all three of its exhibition spaces, so following the journey around the space feels like perhaps we are embarking on the trail that provides the show’s namesake.
Settings fluctuate, we have humans festering in the stale indoors and then standing helpless at the bottom of pine trees that feel like unclimbable ladders.
As the Crewdson dogma would dictate, there are various discarded bits of clothing strewn left right and centre. I like how the material slumps on the ground, it feels like the photograph was taken just at that moment when the garment falls off a car bonnet or armchair rest, after several minutes of being positioned precariously on the edge.

Why do the men’s and women’s emotions feel so archaically polarised? Women appear dissatisfied, holding dark secrets, anxieties and longings, whereas men are permanently at rest, in a post-coitus nirvana, except for the young boy in Father and Son, one of my favourites in the show. It’s interesting to wonder who – if anyone – is in control.

The similarity across the photographs puts at risk the entire mystery of it all – it’s left feeling a little trite – but it does appeal to the voyeuristic morbidity in us all, so that we are yet another nosey neighbour peering through the hole in the fence.