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Preview, Review, Visual art


In A Lonely Place

Words by Claire Hielscher 

In 2013, the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Fortitude Valley will be graced with the hyper-real and haunting imagery of American photographer Gregory Crewdson. Taken from three separate series of work — Fireflies, Sanctuary, and the Ben Schapiro documentary feature Beneath the Roses — Crewdson’s exhibition at the IMA will be called In a Lonely Place. This year at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) Crewdson delivers a lecture regarding the three bodies of work that will compose this forthcoming project, all of which show a life lived on the edges of the normal and paranormal, the moving and the motionless, and the domestic and the exterior.

After listening to Crewdson describe his progression from documenting the often forgotten moments of everyday life, to the hyper-real and light-saturated images of exaggerated domesticity, to the cinematic elevation of community living, it became easier to comprehend the accuracy and poignancy of such a title for these vastly differing bodies of work.

As he explains, his early attraction to the medium of photography did not arise from its ease of narrative expression, but rather from its complicated nature as a muted and static form of story-telling. For Crewdson, photography forces the artist to search for a more condensed narrative; photography fixates on one moment in order to see neither before nor after a particular event — rather just the parts of that one moment in stasis.

Crewdson’s presentation traces his development from a Yale graduate to an international name in his own right. Moving through his early, stunningly subtle, images of a small town in Massachusetts to the cinematic and expansive works in Beneath the Roses, the stranger-as-subject becomes a moment in a grander narrative directed by Crewdson’s own codes of colour and light.

In works from Beneath the Roses, Crewdson’s use of dramatic spotlights electrifies the home environment and surrounding town; it is lit beautifully, artificially. The window as framing device — a pathway between the interior and exterior world — follows Crewdson as a motif throughout his lifetime of work. As in all three bodies of work,this frame represents the spaces in-between — the opening of archways, the spaces beneath railways, the opening of car doors — mirroring the momentarily captured space the photographer produces in his images.

In works from Sanctuary, shot in the abandoned ruins of Italy’s Cinecittà, and in the strangely lit nature photos in Fireflies, Crewdson produces a removed world: haunting and ethereal, sitting on the precipice of something much darker. This awareness of worlds within worlds demonstrates key elements of Crewdson’s American gothic. He juxtaposes startling life with imminent death and decay.

According to Crewdson, the artist’s role is to retell the same, central tale, but to reinvigorate it, redirect it with new parameters; the artist’s story remains central, but develops through the self-imposed and self-directed changes that the work reaches out toward. This showing at the IMA, In a Lonely Place, is an amalgamation of such a story — Crewdson’s story of an America layered in the uncanny, the bizarre and the isolating. He trusts that the viewer will bring their own insecurities, fears and individual traumas to these images.

The photographs act as windows between us and a seemingly infinite array of domestic and exterior lives. As Crewdson himself notes with surprise and self-revelation, there is a link between the act of psychiatry, his father’s profession, and photography; they are both acts of sense-making, intimate yet removed, and consistently adapting to the world around us.

IN A LONELY PLACE opens at the Institute of Modern Art in early 2013.


About Zenobia Frost

Zenobia Frost is a Brisbane writer. Her work has been published in Voiceworks, Overland, The Lifted Brow and The Guardian. Her debut poetry collection, Salt and Bone, is out through Walleah Press. @zenfrost


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