Words – Sheena Colquhoun

Photos – J Forsyth

Gregory Crewdson, In a lonely place 28 September – 11 November. Centre of Contemporary Photography, 404 George street Fitzroy.

The large-scale, hyper-real, colourful and dark imagery of famed photographer Gregory Crewdson have taken over the Centre for Contemporary Photography Fitzroy. Immense and immersive, Crewdsons’ photographs create a world of their own that sit somewhere between the mundane, the overly familiar everyday; and the surreal, rendered and mediated universe of photography.

Known for his huge budgets, enormous large scale set designs and the use of an entire crew of people, his staged photographs are something bizarre to behold. The main gallery held the types of works Crewdson is most known for. Within the works we see a common theme of alienation and disillusionment. This manifests itself as single or multiple figures, often dwarfed by their surroundings, looking despondently into the surrounding space.

As though we are just settling down to a grand movie, his mis-en-scene style of composition is engrossing. There were a few photographs which captured my attention for what seemed to be hours. There was a power in the cinematic premise of the composition which was unavoidable. More time looking at the works was rewarded with a continual narrative unravelling itself to you as onlooker and beholder. Delicately framed with every fine detail planned thoroughly, the filmic narrative expands unwittingly as you allow your imagination to fill in the gaps of what may have happened before, and what may happen soon.

The works are extraordinary to say the least. This doesn’t however mean, at least for me, that they are all successful works of art. Having moved past the initial, and somewhat overwhelming experience of seeing them, there were a few problems that emerged.

There were far more images of a single female figure looking despondent and enveloped by sadness than of men. A more delicate and self-reflexive approach to such a loaded and potentially upsetting subject matter may have been more tactful, as a male artist staging and representing the sadness of women is problematic territory when thinking about authorship and the voice and power dynamic of the artist and his subjects.

Whilst some of the works were extremely affecting, and disarming, some also tried too hard to do so. A few seemed confusing and unbelievable. Crewdsons’ impressive ability to tread the line between the quotidian and the surreal sometimes accidentally misplaces itself. There were moments in some of the photographs where the unbelievable nature of the imagery was too much, where, instead of reflecting on the nature of our own relationship to the narrative, we reflect on the over-mediated nature of the medium. Our attention is deferred to questions of staging and post-production rather than the potential for an understanding or engagement with the conceptual implication.

The show encompassed three separate series by Crewdson. The first series we are presented with is quite separate to the rest of the show, and quite unexpected for people who are already familiar with his practise. Wholly black and white and at a smaller scale the works also lack a central figure, and are shot, for the first time out of the US. Whilst the works were beautiful, meditative and compelling, they were potentially too much in relation to the rest of the show. They seemed incongruous, and either needed a show of their own, or to not be included in this one.

To experience this show is amazing. There are definitely aspects that I found problematic, or unsuccessful, but I would also definitely recommend anyone to go see it in order to understand, engage with and digest its true affect.