In 2011, the fine-art photographer Gregory Crewdson fled from the hustle and bustle of New York City and settled in the quiet Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. For two years, the photographer did not produce a single image: he was seeking personal renewal and creative inspiration outside the pressure of daily productivity. Surrounded by dense forests, river valleys and mountainous peaks, the region’s beauty lead Crewdson to experience an aesthetic awakening.
When the photographer stumbled upon a hiking trail named “Cathedral of the Pines,” in that instant, he saw a new body of work unveil itself before his very eyes. After two years of production, his new photography series, named after that fateful hiking trail, is complete. Composed of 31 images, the series explores the uncanny of everyday life.
The images of the series were meticulously staged and photographed with a large format camera in various locations around Becket, Massachusetts, and serve as a backdrop to the bigger picture Crewdson wanted to create. Each suspenseful image represents the disquieting in-between moments of everyday life, those experienced in the privacy of homes, in forest clearings and towns centres all over the world. His series visually explores the existing tensions between alienation and longing, as well as the themes of nature and humans.
This is the photographer’s most personal work up to date, because of the intimate connection the images have with his past experiences. The series features subjects that Crewdson has personally known, such as his partner, Juliane Hiam, who appears in the photograph “Mother and Daughter.” This image portrays two women laying on a couch, in a home, contemplatively looking into the void.
Although not immediately visible in the photographs, Crewdson’s signature (and cinematically grand) work methods have been shrunk down. The series was produced with a much smaller crew and far less technical equipment than in the past. This, we can imagine, plays a large part in the heightened intimacy of his images.
But in spite of the reduced scale, nothing has been lost aesthetically. His photographs are still as enchanting as his previous series, “Beneath the Roses,” even as they emit a much quieter and more pictorial atmosphere. Indeed, many of the frames remind us of 19th century paintings, from Courbet or Manet, yet tinged with a contemporary anxiety. The image “Woman at Sink” is an example of this apparent influence: a woman, finely lit by the window she is facing, seems to stare into another world while merely trying to do the dishes. Her features, illuminated by the reflection from the snow outside her home, are both specific and universal.
Crewdson’s maintains this effect throughout all of his images, using exterior light as his primary source of illumination. With the help of renowned director of photography Richard Sands, this quality of soft light has served as a staple to Crewdson’s photographic aesthetic. Like the Impressionists before him, he holds a particular fondness for that special time during twilight, “the magic hour.” This short timeframe is the one moment when the photographer can work with natural and artificial light together, forming the luminous basis of the ephemeral and transitory nature of his images.
Editor’s Note: “Cathedral of the Pines” was on display from January 28, 2016 to March 5, 2016 at the Gagosian Gallery in New York.