Gregory Crewdson, beneath the roses and ambiguity

Through my journey of researching the theme of ambiguity in Historical and Contemporary Art, Gregory Crewdson has been a very fundamental contemporary artist and shaped the way my work is currently visually developing.

“Beneath the roses” is a series of 36 photographs by the Artist Gregory Crewdson, completed after four productions, some on location in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, others in a soundstage specially constructed. Crewdson’s method of photography is quite unique, often resembling a movie set with a crew, composed of around 40 people from production designers, personnel in charge of lighting and even a director (Amy Larocca, 2008). As a matter of fact many film production techniques and technologies are used, for example lights are held up by cranes, fog is produced from fog machines, rainmaking machines to create a downfall and even shutting down main streets to be used for a location (Kenneth R. Fletcher, 2008).

loooGregory Crewdson, 2006 (image Online). Untitled (Sunday Roast) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses. [Photography].

huiGregory Crewdson, 2006 (image Online) Untitled (Shane) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses’. [Photography].

Gregory Crewdson often tackles the idea of ambiguity in his photographic series. As he states himself “There are two possible interpretations, one is the possibility of impossibility and two is the impossibility of possibility. I know there’s a sadness in my pictures. There’s this want to connect to something larger, and then the impossibility of doing so” (Amy Larocca, 2008). If one takes “Untitled (Sunday Roast)”, it is quite evident that there is a sense of sadness from the characters facial expressions but the reasons why are ambiguous. Maybe is the father late again? Maybe he passed away? The guests didn’t turn up or maybe it’s a single mother who just had an argument with her son. This makes the image part of a larger narrative but the photograph limits you from finding it, thus making it impossible to have a clear conclusion. The ambiguity grows when looking at the whole serious which provoke more questions rather than answers. Just from comparing the two photographs above, which are from the same series, makes you question if the two images are even connected, making part of a larger narrative. If they are, is there a timeline where each image falls? Are the characters indifferent to each other or not?  Is the child in “Untitled (Shane)” part of the family in “Untitled (Sunday Roast)”?

The fact that many questions arise from an individual photograph, as well as from the whole series, creates ambiguity on different levels and scales. Just from comparing two images from 36, the sense of narrative already grows and so does the ambiguity in each photograph and the entire series.

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I watched Moonlight and I feel inspired

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A24, 2016 (image Online). Moonlight (2016). [Digital Poster].

I usually don’t watch films during a busy week as I become crippled with anxiety surrounded by voices that shout “YOU’RE WASTING TIME !”, But I was in a mood where not even a collapsing ceiling would make me nudge, so I decided to watch Moonlight and I’m so happy I did.

First things first, let’s talk about the content of the movie which is already so powerful on its own. The story revolves around the main character who’s birth name is Chiron, divided between three chapters of his life, as a young boy, a teenager, and a young adult. As a young boy, Chiron (who is nicknamed Little) is shy and an introvert living in a bad neighborhood in Miami with his mother who is a drug addict and who eventually neglects him. As he becomes a teenager Chiron (who is still called Little) is still shy and struggling with constant bullying which doesn’t help his situation. As an adult, Chiron uses a given nickname “Black”,and has now somehow become more  comfortable with himself (Huggo, 2016).

One of the other overwhelming factors about this film is how masculinity, race and sexuality are tackled in one single film, and if you have read my previous blogs you know that I’m very passionate about these topics. Within the first chapter Chiron (Little) as a young boy, builds a beautiful relationship with Juan, who gains his trust by shows him support, love, care and patience. I also have to admit that I judged the character Juan a bit too quickly as someone who was going to act stereotypically macho, but I was caught off guard as he started showing, ever so naturally, a deep sense of care for Chiron (Little) and an open minded mentality. There are two scenes where Juan challenges toxic masculinity, the first scene is when Juan takes Chiron (Little) go to the beach to teach him how to swim. Juan is seen to hold Chiron (Little) ensuring him that he can trust him and who tells him “Give me your head, ok..let your head rest in my hand, relax, I got you, I promise..I’m not gonna let you go….Hey man I got you, there you go”. I found that scene a beautifully captured moment where a man is showing genuine love and care for a child, Chiron, promising that he will not let him go. I personally refuse to call Juan a father figure for Chiron, but simply a figure/role model that showed him unconditional love and compassion, which the role models gender has nothing to do with it.

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A24, 2016 (image Online). Moonlight. [Digital Image].

The second is when Teresa, Chiron and Juan are sitting at the dining table, then Chiron (Little) asks him “What’s a faggot ?” to which Juan replies “A faggot is..A word used to make gay people feel bad” which Chiron asks again “Am I a faggot ?” and Juan replies with “No, no..you could be gay but you ain’t gonna let nobody call you a faggot”. I found this piece of dialogue so refreshing, it was so beautiful to see Juan break a stereotype telling a little boy that he could be gay answering in a manner that Chiron (Little) could understand, it’s completely fine to be gay, but it’s not fine to be bullied and ridiculed about his sexuality.

The second topic I want to discuss is the film’s cinematography which is so unique. As an artist who is mostly interested translating image to painting and painting in general, I couldn’t stop thinking how every single second of this movie can be turned into a painting, as every single second had such a well thought out feel of compositional balance. Two examples of this are the scene when Chiron (Little) is preparing his own bath, followed by a zoom shot of Chiron (Little) in the centre of the bath, which can be seen in the youtube trailer attached below at around 0:51. The composition is balanced with Chiron sitting still in the middle of the tub, the colours all dull, which create a sense of harmony and quietness, this works well with the captured moment of melancholy that the little boy is going through. Another example of this is the scene present in the youtube trailer attached below, from 0:48 to 0:50 where Chiron’s mother is shouting at him, follow by a jump cut of Chiron lowering his head as he closes his eyes. Again if you stop at each second you achieve an image which can be translated into a painting. All the paused three seconds depict a balanced composition, with both characters in the centre of their frame. What I find striking is the neon colour behind his mother which emphasise her aggressiveness, while behind Chiron everything is out of focus emphasising his passiveness. I have also attached a great youtube video titled “Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More” by ScreenPrism, which explains better the thought behind this masterpiece that can help you understand and appreciate it more.

 

Moonlight YouTube Trailer:

Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More:

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