Gregory Crewdson is an acclaimed American photographer who makes images on an epic scale. With all the production values of a movie the images are crafted with meticulous precision to produce art to fire the viewers imagination.
Ahead of the opening of his latest show, 'Cathedral of the Pines,' Gregory took the time to talk to PhotoTypes about his process and what inspires him and his images.
United States


00:00:07it's easy to fool yourself that you're actually working when you're not working so it would be a lot of stuff going on different exhibitions museum shows and big book that was being published at the time when you're an artist and you're not producing work can feel somewhat dead
00:00:24inside while Gregory Crewdson was taking a hiatus from making photographs he knew that there was something missing from his life with a body of work years in the making I'm not but when this is photo types we can balance claimed American photographer Gregory Crewdson makes images that take
00:00:58years to come together produced on the same scale as a film set every part of the image is meticulously perfected from conception to finish damage in this episode of five to times Gregory tells us all about his process and more importantly what drives and inspires both his images
00:01:15and himself Gregory welcome to factor talks my pleasure as I asked everybody at the start of these pa customs fees public around you exactly where you are now and tell us what you can see physically well I'm in my studio in the %HESITATION office which is %HESITATION next
00:01:32door to my home which is a church and %HESITATION the studios a converted firehouse and %HESITATION I'm in the corner of that and there's a beautiful view through the two windows out into the backyard where in the world is that in just outside a great Barrington Massachusetts so
00:01:57Gregory for those people who don't know you can you describe yourself as a photographer or the types of photography that you take well I would describe myself I think that's first and foremost a storyteller and I use pictures in a way to try to tell that story %HESITATION
00:02:14the thrill light and color and %HESITATION I would say that in some ways I would consider myself a realist and %HESITATION but I'm really interested in something that is not visible something that's repressed or %HESITATION which is psychological psychological fear psychological desire I know this is all very
00:02:41abstract but I do it in and this first formal church I'm really interested in place and setting and form and relationships between Bobby and setting but I guess my search chief ambition terms of photography as in terms of being a photographer is trying to make the most beautiful
00:03:06and most mysterious picture that I'm can conjure where did this concept come from the concept isn't particularly a concept as much it is a way of making pictures you know it's the only way I know how to make pictures of one thing I didn't %HESITATION described is that
00:03:29I make pictures without a large group and the pictures are more like %HESITATION productions like there's a very close relationship to movies but I've always been interested in the relationship that a still photograph has to film and I was always interested in telling stories through color and light
00:03:52and this %HESITATION probably dates back to my first serious pictures and just grows organically walk of the stories that interest you I think that all photographers have a relationship to %HESITATION voyeurism to %HESITATION two looking in on something that secret or mysterious or for a bit and and
00:04:20I feel that my pictures have a relationship to that %HESITATION my pictures are concerned with intimate situations private moments that are photographed in a kind of removed way so %HESITATION the very nature of looking into the viewfinder this up act of separation from the world on I'm interested
00:04:47in that relationship and interested in making pictures that lay off of that one way or another described the process to is done from sort of conception of an image to to the final production well I think in terms of still pictures always you know that's how I my
00:05:07mind works %HESITATION I'm not particularly good with linear thought so %HESITATION all my pictures begin and end with an image since that %HESITATION I imagine in one way or another %HESITATION and they usually starts with location scouting months before production where I I will make a picture that
00:05:34is shaped influenced by a place and through that setting through that location I will write a description with Joanne who works very closely with me and that description becomes like a screenplay for the picture although it doesn't describe anything about motivation or plot or dialogue or anything like
00:06:03that it's just a description of a still moment and then through that that description is shared with my writer photography and rex sands and we %HESITATION through the actors and anyone else who's involved and we bring that picture to life in a production how long can they take
00:06:27does it does it vary depending on the the subject the whole process from beginning to end you know can take years %HESITATION it's months of pre production the productions are the shortest period actually the production takes between four and five weeks and will make like ten or fifteen
00:06:50pictures turned out pretty and then there's months of post production afterwards this new body work and he told the times and which is about four years in the making was three individual productions over the course of that time and %HESITATION they're all separated from trades with with cherries
00:07:15a preacher pre production and post production is it film all digitally your working with this is all digital buses son from beginning to end its digital on %HESITATION beneath the roses and everything that came before them was basically shot film eight by ten this is shot %HESITATION digitally
00:07:40and and consequences consequently there's a different feel to these pictures there are %HESITATION they're much more intimate serve more private more of the sort of %HESITATION less of the distance to view more physical I am a visual of the pines which as you said is that the title
00:08:02of the body of the work also relates to that the trail through the forest that you and took the images what was it about that place that inspired you well it might be worth saying that of these pictures previous to these pictures I went through %HESITATION in up
00:08:22quite a dark period where in my marriage and and and %HESITATION and I have two children Ozell a great sense of dislocation I moved out of New York moved into the church this church that I'm talking to you from now and they were it was about two years
00:08:43previous to even the first picture where I didn't make any pictures on I was trying to stabilize my life %HESITATION and %HESITATION both as a father to my children and just trying to kind of %HESITATION create a certain stability in my own life and in that process I
00:09:04started a you know I'm a religious swimmer so ugly part of the process of getting back to a certain kind of normality list take these walks up to the Appalachian Trail and do these long distance swims and open lakes and then during the winter so cross country ski
00:09:26and it was during that it will in the middle of winter Joanne and I worse skin deep in the forest in a pine forest and there's a little sign that said could teach of the pines and it was kind of their room revelation of a moment of clarity
00:09:48where I saw the entire body work in front of me like %HESITATION in my mind's eye and I knew that I want to make all the pictures in this very small town that get and they would deal with us figures and nature and they would all be on
00:10:09location either in the insurers or and as in forests on and that's what we did during the period when you didn't make any images had you lost a creative sparkle was always that you just didn't have an outlet for it you know I'm it's easy to fool yourself
00:10:28that you're actually working when you're not working so there would be a lot of stuff going on like different exhibitions museum shows some big book that was being published at the time when you're an artist and you're not producing work you feel somewhat dead inside but at the
00:10:45same time I was sort of accepting it as a period where I have to a new life for myself basically so you know there was that mac in frustration overseas of not making pictures that you know it makes you feel fraudulent on some level shows that was a
00:11:05great relief when we finally got in the process and did you know that you would always come back to it and all with the doubts that you view you would come back to it still oh no idea I mean that's what I did so %HESITATION and is really
00:11:20the only time apart from the you know what might happen family and %HESITATION where I feel fully alive and engaged %HESITATION and that's why it was like at the court and I was like not fully myself until I was making pictures again I think you know we all
00:11:39go through these in life %HESITATION and %HESITATION I do think that when I finally started making pictures again %HESITATION I have learned something about myself even though I was the one that how much of yourself than is in your work law I think they're not directly autobiographical in
00:12:01any sense but I think particularly these pictures are very very personal to come out of like personal they come out of deep that out in the open side by %HESITATION psyche you know that %HESITATION you know I'm for an artist only reason make pictures as to like %HESITATION
00:12:23try to tell your own particular story %HESITATION and you know what a photographer does try to present that murky story and that's kind of a noble and mysterious in pictures you know %HESITATION two four through %HESITATION representation run to the beginning of the interview you mentioned about something
00:12:50that was left unsaid in the in the pictures the things that were unspoken are you allowing then the viewer to form their own opinions and they can come up with whatever they want to it's not something that you definitely want them to come up with they just whatever
00:13:07occurs to them yeah well I think that's you know one of the great powers of photography is that it's an unresolved story necessarily no %HESITATION photographs are very different then other narrative forms like %HESITATION unlawful let's say or a movie you know it's a frozen moment in time
00:13:31you know the pictures are left a mystery even to myself and that where I feel like the viewer could bring our own story to it have you ever doubled in the the narratives of the film painting things like that %HESITATION now I mean you know there's been a
00:13:47lot of discussion and over the years that continues the idea of me making a movie works in some way it feels like it would be a natural next step in in other ways it feels very foreign to me I mean I'm very comfortable working with larger groups of
00:14:06people and almost everyone I work with come out of movies the difference that was %HESITATION very fundamental one and that is like as I said earlier I think constrained terms of still pictures so the idea of like lived in these together or at the idea that I would
00:14:26be responsible for dialogue or plot %HESITATION it is so I mean that would be a really challenging thing for me I guess so almost it would be an opposite to what you want to achieve in that you are the leading people with a plus in a story to
00:14:43up a final destination yes and that sort of makes me uncomfortable but you know art is about being uncomfortable in a certain way so I think at some point I will attempt at you know the main things I would have to have a like a store like a
00:15:04a real story to tell as a movie makers us as opposed to a photographer and so that that would be the biggest obstacle I think it also also would have to be absolutely the right situation and on set how involved do you during the lead up into production
00:15:22and that the days when you actually take the shot well I'm kind of I I guess you know by the time if everything goes right by the time we're on sat like %HESITATION there's almost very little for me to to you know %HESITATION except in a walk around
00:15:39nervously %HESITATION but I do make you know very important final decisions I like framing like what's in the picture and then the smallest nuance of like positioning of the subject you know there's very little improvisation and my pictures so like I make those very small Luke's that I
00:16:07think either makes or breaks picture and do you always use the same focal length I you know I try to %HESITATION yeah I do everything I can for the the final picture but the the viewer is not conscious of any of the apparatus of picture making so I
00:16:31always will use a lands where there's a little distortion as possible so that being said %HESITATION I will use a normal lands mostly for exteriors and then for the inter is a slightly wider lines but I don't want any of the sort of odd angles I don't want
00:16:54any grain and the other focus any disruption of the transparency of the picture I think you said earlier that you take around fourteen or fifteen photographs and that's it when you choose from there is for the final image %HESITATION know what what what what I meant there was
00:17:13like we actually make fourteen pictures of the course of three weeks or four weeks or five weeks okay and when we're shooting we'll make hundreds of pictures for any particular photograph and but we don't move the camera ever so once the cameras fixed it's not moved because we
00:17:38will wind up compositing different aspects of the picture later in post production so we will shoot over the course of %HESITATION twilight from light to dark we will shoot like every variation of focus and exposure to stay and then we'll always a fraction of those but like the
00:18:07basic rule on set is of life you don't shoot it we won't have enough so we try to cover every opportunity there are and we take very exacting notes so what we're shooting okay I'm gonna take you back in time a little bit Gregory and but you'll schooling
00:18:28days new education what did you study at school and what did you want to be at school one of the reasons I'm a photographer is like a wasn't very good and academia and it turns out I had always throughout my life struggle with on dyslexia and I'm also
00:18:47%HESITATION left handed and I hold a pen weird all those thanks to get at of all those liabilities together this maybe I'm not a very good student so always had trouble reading and writing has taken %HESITATION and this is always a real struggle like throughout my throughout my
00:19:13school years and then it wasn't till I was %HESITATION at undergraduate at SUNY purchase where I was studying to be a psychologist I wanted to be like possibility %HESITATION psychologists and my father I was finding it very difficult just like test taking and everything and I took my
00:19:35first photo one class and immediately fell in love with the medium partially because it seems so natural to me like %HESITATION a photograph has now as we talked about earlier no beginning or no and so frozen moment in time and I know I knew how to read it
00:19:58you know it makes sense in terms of the way I think about sex how did you progress that love then you know I took my first photo one class with Laurie Simmons who was a great influence and then studied with John Gruber and others %HESITATION but at the
00:20:16same time I was always also taking film theory classes and %HESITATION learning a lot about movies and fallen in love with movies so it was early on where I tried to begin thinking about how to bring those two mediums together and %HESITATION that's essentially what I started doing
00:20:39on the undergraduate level then I could continued on group on in graduate school at Yale %HESITATION in late eighties what were the movies that you left that inspired you well this well I had this one particular %HESITATION a film teacher named Tom gunning who really open me up
00:21:02enormously to the history of movies critically Hedgecock and %HESITATION I remember classes like %HESITATION nineteen fifties melodrama horror films I think I inherited it seems like an interest in kind of accessible they make in Hollywood you know an interest in that tradition Hollywood tradition and then later you
00:21:31know became more interested in Cronenberg and others and then when I was in graduate school I saw %HESITATION blue velvet between I guess since %HESITATION in nineteen eighty six and that definitely changed my life so the point you graduated what what were you doing then why graduate it
00:21:52%HESITATION and in nineteen eighty eight and with very little of possibility I think I mean I started teaching at John photography classes and %HESITATION was working as a waiter and then made the decision to move to %HESITATION into my parents log cabin in Massachusetts and just continue making
00:22:20pictures and struggled quite a bit and twin through different kind of sure it's in terms of my work and then had the fortune to be included in a the first time I was ever in into show ever anywhere was at the museum of modern art and not on
00:22:40a show called the pleasures and terrorists domestic comfort we just like in nineteen ninety now's likes my first kind of disability as an artist well with this the subjects of those of those images where that influence come from those where there are there are a few pictures from
00:22:59%HESITATION my thesis show at at Yale and that those pictures are you know I'm still very %HESITATION connected to those pictures because if they're not she usually different from what I do now but on a much smaller scale you know there are like domestic dramas using lighting color
00:23:22and then there were a couple pictures which were the dioramas that I made that I see it in the early nineteen nineties that were influenced by museum dioramas that dealt with like the relationship of nature and domesticity they were directly influenced by Lynch for sure who or what
00:23:48was inspiring gear up points I mean it was an interesting time to be a photographer like when I was in graduate school and after because at that time yell was a very kind of traditional program and %HESITATION was very much connected to the tradition of documentary photography such
00:24:08as Walker Evans so engrossed in and fruit tree lander and that whole group but at the same time I was going down to New York and seem in no shows like first generation postmodern photographers like Cindy Sherman and %HESITATION Richard prince another is and I feel like my
00:24:30work somehow %HESITATION was equally indebted to but the documentary tradition and the postmodern not me %HESITATION and through the relationship both of those traditions have to to fiction almost there anybody particularly influencing you and does anyone influence you now or do you are you particularly focused just on
00:25:00yourself and don't get too much outside influence yeah I mean I was hugely influenced by movies and I think Cindy Sherman was a a very pivotal figure for may and %HESITATION and then there are other like for Paris like %HESITATION William Eggleston and %HESITATION Stephen shore and shells
00:25:23strewn felt there all like very much part of my sensibility I think you know now I've been you know the interesting thing is I think you're doing your defined as an artist when you're coming of age you know eat it's when you're a young artist in your twenties
00:25:43that's when you're really shaped in terms of the pictures that really influenced you haunches I think in a certain way you you spend a lot but the the rest of your life battling those influences or redefined in and or reinventing the you know %HESITATION so I just think
00:26:08that's sort of a natural process you you know when you're a young artist to allow all those influences and and then %HESITATION and then you spend the rest your life trying to to find your own sensibility Sir how much to social media play in your own life for
00:26:28the moments think something like Instagram well that's an interesting question because I had never been on Instagram %HESITATION I think that all photographers need to kind of ask themselves that very question because we're making pictures in a very different moment %HESITATION now and we are inundated with pictures
00:26:53on a continuous level but it's pictures ins on the screen that's how like our culture understands photography in a certain way any photographer who's like still committed to the idea of making a picture that's a physical thing that hangs on the wall has to like understand that like
00:27:17that's %HESITATION of small percentage of pictures do we object to we experience seven out lap you know it just makes the task that much harder you know that much more complicated that much more demand it I think it now %HESITATION and I am fully aware that like when
00:27:40you make a series of pictures I mean I've general rule not to how many pictures %HESITATION send to digitally should email or JPEG Sir for that very reason I was trying to keep the the actual image the physical image of something that's paramount to know that being said
00:28:04%HESITATION we %HESITATION are using Instagram %HESITATION I think an interesting way in where %HESITATION showing the behind the scenes of the making of the pictures %HESITATION we're we're allowing those indexes haven't social media world and I feel like that's a really exciting undue you controlled those pictures to
00:28:28go out in the same sort of way to they have to be of of a similar style of of a a particular style what we did was %HESITATION when we're in productions we just told our crew members to feel free to document every aspect of it you know
00:28:44from beginning to end and the only thing that we ask them was that they didn't show the pictures we asked them that we pull all the photographs that they've made on their cell phones and that we maintain control over that and we held on to that for a
00:29:03couple years so we tried it a huge image bank of pictures that were made from every national lab techs court from all the crew members and then at a certain point Julianne organize the Instagram %HESITATION accountants started very selectively sending out these pictures daily but most of these
00:29:31pictures were made previously like yours sometimes years ago you had a good response from that oh yeah I think it's it's great because in the in the end the pictures tell you everything but nothing you know they like it they create anticipation without showing you any of the
00:29:50final product you know the idea of actually putting up a final picture on Instagram would not be interesting to me on any level but the idea of like showing the behind the scenes of the making of the pictures the %HESITATION even like the walks up to a group
00:30:11goose pond the swims the cross country skis all that becomes part of the narrative of the story that behind the backstory of these pictures by Gregory what excites you while making pictures excites me going to movies excites me but what really excites me is like have been every
00:30:32day rituals where I like shouldn't consistency in my life so having a great Cup of coffee excites me are going for a I cannot swim excites me being with my kids excites me conversely to that then what scares you or making pictures scares me too you know like
00:30:55in a certain way it's easier not to make pictures that make pictures just because there's less at stake but that's a good kind of terror I think you feel pressure every time you and you stop production %HESITATION yes I mean every part of it really and now that
00:31:16we're about a month from that show up in and that really feels like %HESITATION I mean it's exciting but it's there's a element of terror to because like you invested everything basically you could get it all out there for the world to see how important is it to
00:31:32you that people respond to them and like them all are you doing these pictures now for yourself I mean how important is the gratification from it well I think every artist like has been the site of the magic told him slowly gets you don't make pictures in isolation
00:31:53you know %HESITATION you have to understand that there's a context the civilians that being said when you are making the pictures you have to put that all wet just focus on trying to be as honest and clear with yourself as possible and try to make the best she
00:32:14can but I would be lying to say that I don't think about response you know that's for sure okay what's your favorite swear word favorite swear word us well it's got a faca thing is a pretty popular one in this podcast do you swear a lot on set
00:32:35so you quite calm would you get I don't swear now I and I and I rarely get angry sat very rarely once in awhile I do but I don't really I try not to show it I get much here in real and everyday life you know driving for
00:32:53example or things like that in a more trivial things and now if you could be anything else for a day what would you be Gregory well I guess the filmmaker to see how that feels or someone who has like you know a real job that would be interesting
00:33:10I was so you know it's kind of wonder about that you know the people who have like of this the job that they feel good about that to go to every day and feel proud about like I wonder how that would feel like who living or dead who
00:33:26would you like to photograph I guess I would have to be %HESITATION Walker Evans maybe why a particular well I love his picture making I love a love like his appearances and %HESITATION and I feel very kind of influenced by his particularly American version event you know my
00:33:46son and I named my son Walker after Walker happened so is near and dear to my heart right Gregory if you could give some advice to another photographer who's maybe just starting out in the photography journey what would it be I think my advice would be be true
00:34:02to your vision nurture your particular view of the world because it's really in the end the only thing you have and finally then this is the last question who else should I be interviewing on this broadcast voter types who would you like to hear from and I would
00:34:18like to each year rushes to her mother although I think it's pictures tell me everything I need to know about him Gregory it's been great talking to you thank you very much for taking the time of your day and in speaking to us great questions and now I'm
00:34:33in a going to bring my kids to Star Wars many thanks to Gregory for joining as his new show cathedral of the pines is now open act goes in gallery on five two two west twenty First Street in New York until fifth of March if you're enjoying factor
00:34:48talks on I choose particularly that please rights and review the show so that other people can find it really does make a difference coming up soon all voted types were heading to the phone north of Sweden and Austin Texas

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