According to Wikipedia, the town of Becket, Massachusetts, has a population of 1,779 and counts a ‘Mormon pioneer’ among its notable residents. According to the new photographic series by Gregory Crewdson, it’s a desolate, snow-blanketed town of anonymous houses filled with ghost-faced inhabitants. Not exactly tourist board material.
After a messy divorce, Crewdson holed up in this tiny Appalachian town where the seclusion effectively did the work of a therapist. Thereafter came this eerie series of meticulously staged tableaux, in which the listless townsfolk appear in drab living rooms, stationary camper vans, gravelled driveways and litter-strewn clearings in the pinewoods that girdle the town. Crewdson has frequently courted David Lynch comparisons throughout his career, and if his previous collection of suburban psychodramas ‘Beneath the Roses’ was his ‘Blue Velvet’, this is his ‘Twin Peaks’. Although it’s probably fairer to go back to both men’s common forebear, the painter Edward Hopper, whose scenes of lonely Americana stripped back the inner workings of the nation’s psyche.
Like Hopper, Crewdson uses nudity; voyeuristically at times, but never erotically. These unclothed figures, their flesh pallid and puckered in the wintry light, feel seized up by their own mortality. If it’s the overwhelming feeling of death that hovers over these bleak-midwinter images, the odd moment of life – a pregnant woman, a mother holding her baby to her breast – pushes back. And if outright narratives never quite break through the stasis, that’s a good thing: if these pictures just felt like stills from films, they’d be rather trite and mawkish. That said, Crewdson does have his first feature film on the way. Those Lynch comparisons probably won’t be going anywhere.
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The images are technically stunning, while the bleak narratives speak of death, alienation and dislocation. They are as much in the tradition of Andrew Wyeth as Lynch and Hopper, but certainly resonate. The nudes all have the pallor of a dead Christ as we peer into intimate tableaux of sexual ennui, nascent disease and relationship breakdown. Certainly an art for contemporary America.