Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines
Gregory Crewdson is my all-time favourite photographer and I was thrilled to be in Paris while ‘Cathedral of the Pines’, his latest and much-awaited series, was on show at Galerie Daniel Templon. I prefer attending exhibitions in galleries as opposed to big museums because it allows you to view artworks in a much more intimate and honest space. You can take your time to truly experience and absorb the work. Galerie Daniel Templon is the perfect space in which to enjoy these sacred moments with Crewdson’s work.
‘Cathedral of the Pines’ is Crewdson’s first new body of work in over five years. It is a triumphant return to his iconic style of storytelling and exploration of psychological themes through beautiful tableaux. It is the result of a long period of isolation and transition for the artist, during which he retreated from New York City to a remote location in Western Massachusetts. He spent his time here mostly alone, withdrawn from society, surrounded by nature.
The photo series is named after a trail deep in the forests of Becket, Massachusetts, where he is said to have experienced a reconnection to his childhood memories and to his creativity, finding the inspiration for this new body of work. ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ has all the iconic cinematic elements of classic Crewdson style, but is presented in more natural settings, evoking rawer emotions than ever before.
The artist says: “These pictures come closest to describing my story than any other body of work I’ve made previously. They are the most intimate, the most private, the most personal, and the closest to my heart… In these pictures I was very conscious of attempting to say in a literal way almost nothing. I wanted almost exclusively the meanings to reside on light, and atmosphere, and colour. I just want enough of the story to bring the viewer in and to create a sense of mystery, but certainly there’s no answers in these pictures, there’s just questions.” (Gagosian Gallery Exhibition Video by Granny Cart Productions)
Prior to being exposed to Gregory Crewdson’s work I never really recognised photography as a true art form. I thought of it as a journalistic medium, and appreciated it as that, but I didn’t regard it as art. I used to think that anyone could look at something beautiful, interesting or meaningful, point a camera at it and click a shutter button to document it, but it took true artistic talent and skill to paint it. I was young and stupid, and struggling to make it as a painter in a very demanding Fine Arts School programme. I found it extremely difficult to portray my ideas and emotions effectively in my paintings. Looking back, I am certain that my personal frustration with painting was the reason why I felt inclined to value it as the superior art form.
My misguided opinions of photography changed the day I first viewed Gregory Crewdson’s work in 2006 at the ‘Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I went to this exhibition to accompany a good friend, but I didn’t have any particular interest in going and certainly didn’t expect to be moved by the works I would see that day. I could not have been more wrong. Viewing Crewdson’s photographs was not just moving, it was transcendent and life-changing.
Crewdson’s photographs are not something you simply view, they are something you experience with every emotion and every fibre of your being, and that to me is the true definition of art.
Crewdson doesn’t document reality, he creates it. He makes the mundane momentous, the ordinary substantial, and the surreal real. He portrays frozen time fragments of ordinary life and tells hypnotic stories through them. There is an air of solitude and sincerity in his work that brings up the rawest of emotions in the viewer. His work is sad yet hopeful, painful yet beautiful, like life, like humanity itself.
Years later, I had given up the dream of being a painter and started studying Media Communications. I had an outstanding photography professor, who became a dear friend and mentor. One of my first photography projects for her class was a short series of dark and mysterious portraits depicting the sorrows of the loss and suppression of childhood, the longing for childhood memories that never truly were.
My professor then encouraged me to look into Gregory Crewdson’s work. I went home, googled him, and found the pictures from his series ‘Twilight’ and ‘Beneath the Roses’ that had so loudly spoken to me many years before. Time had gone by, I had forgotten the artist’s name, but the compelling artworks had remained woven into the webs of my mind and my self.
At that moment I became conscious that Gregory Crewdson would always be a great inspiration and influence in my work. How could he not be? He was, after all, the one who first convinced me that photography is a true and powerful art form; and for that I will be forever in his debt.
Photography changed my life in the most significant of ways. It freed me from the constraints that painting had held on me. It loosened the knots that painting had tangled in my throat and gave me a clear and zealous voice.
Expressing myself through photography has not been easy. It has been difficult and at times excruciatingly painful and frustrating, art always is. Photography requires dedication and skill: technical, theoretic, and artistic. Like with any medium, there is a lot to learn, and the learning is never complete. You try, you fail, you love a piece of work only to hate it days later, you hate a piece only to love it years later. It is a strenuous process, but you are always enhancing and developing.
Behind the camera I have found a holy place where I can explore and express my dreams and my reality, my strength and my frailty, my hopes and my regrets, my innocence and my sins, my comfort and torment. Behind the camera I meet and create my most honest and truest self. Behind the camera I find my own terra sancta, my own Cathedral of the Pines.
Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines will be exhibited at Galerie Daniel Templon in Paris & Brussels until October, 29th, 2016.