Gregory Crewdson

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below. [accessed 24/02/14]

• Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
Gregory Crewdson’s work looks stunning.  The photographs he produces are so striking they’re difficult to look away from.  I want to look for every clue and don’t mind spending time doing so.  The depth of colours really emphasise the aesthetics in addition to directional lighting.

Part of the beauty within these images invokes some deep visceral meanings  coming from Crewdson.

gregory crewdson boy hand in dreainFig 1. Untitled – Boy with hand in drain (2001–2002)

In the documentary film ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame’ by Ben Shapiro, Crewdson talks about the above image and goes into detail about his inspiration and where the idea came from.  As a boy he was always thinking about what is down there?  What lies beyond what we can’t see?  He has his own questions and poses them to his audience through his photographs.

• Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdsons photographs rely on your own imagination  to think about whats happening, obtain the clues and play the scenario over in your own mind.  The possibilities are limitless.  Crewdson is giving us clues about his own psychological state of mind whilst the story relies on your own psyche to draw the blanks.

The images are psychological in the same sense of a cinematic psychological thriller.  They really draw on the emotions and experiences of both the photographer and the viewer.  You never quite know for sure whats going on but you can come to your own conclusions.

gregory crewdson car in streetFig 2. Untitled (north by northwest) (2004)

This image was spoke about at length in the documentary.  It looks like a pinnacle scene in a psychological thriller.  Why does the street look deserted?  Where are all the people?  Why has the car stopped in the middle of the street?  Where is the driver?  They have clearly left the car, the drivers door is open.  Why is the passenger still in the car on her own?  Why isn’t she getting out?  Is she disturbed by the scene?  The fog is adding to the suspense.

All this questions are making me think about what’s happened here?  Its playing with my mind.  I’m searching for more clues hoping all will become clear.

• What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

I read recently that there are two types of photographer, the ones who take nice photos and those who tell stories.  I used to just want to take nice photographs and they were admired by everyone who knew me.  I then started taking photographs to include more clues as to the story I’m trying to tell and the compliments stopped coming from friends and family, they started coming from professional photographers and photography academics.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in wanting to produce beautiful photographs.  Lets face it, it what everyone wants.  If you can tell a story at the same time then you’ve just moved into the realms of being an ‘artist’.

Beautiful photographs are always a pleasure to view regardless of their intention.  When I photograph newborn babies the main brief is to make that baby look as cute as possible.  My clients already know all the other details about the baby, they don’t want to put clue in the photograph.  Theres nothing wrong with that and they are fit for purpose.  When taking photographs you always have to consider why your taking that photograph.  Is it to look good or to document something?  Regardless of the purpose its possible to make the photograph beautiful in the process.


Fig 1.  Crewdson, G. (2001-2002) Untitled – Boy with hand in drain. At (Accessed 13/08/17).

Fig 2. Crewdson, G. (2001-2002) Untitled (north by northwest). At (Accessed 13/08/17).

Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’


To find subjects for his series Hustlers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia drove around Hollywood between 1990 and 1992 looking for male prostitutes. Although many of the photos look perfectly timed, off-the-hip candid photos of street hustlers, diCorcia pre-selected the locations and did lighting tests with an assistant before searching for a subject to put in each setting.

DiCorcia approached his subjects in LA’s “Boystown,” an area of West Hollywood where, in the 80s and 90s, a small fee would buy time with available young rent boys found hanging out on Santa Monica Boulevard. Instead of paying them for sex, he paid them to pose for a photo. The men he found came to LA from all OVER the country for a glamorous new life that they believed could be found in Hollywood. The titles of the photos included the subject’s name, age, hometown and the fee exchanged.

This series was funded by a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant that was awarded to diCorcia in 1989. This was during a time when the government agency was under fire from religious groups that believed the NEA was funding art that embraced controversial gay, religious, political, or obscene content.

Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ (a photo of a crucifix in a glass of piss), Robert Mapplethrope’s photos of naked black men, and Karen Finley’s performances in which she covered her naked body with chocolate to illustrate that women were “treated like shit” are just a few examples of the government funded artistic pursuits that made Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club furious. In this environment, DiCorcia must have found it amusing that a portion of his grant was being used to pay prostitutes.

Marilyn, 28 years old, Las Vegas, Nevada, $30


Chris, 28 years old, Los Angeles, California, $30


Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20


Gerald Hughes (a.k.a. Savage Fantasy), about 25 years old, Southern California, $50


Major Tom, 20 years old, Kansas City, Kansas, $20


Mike Vincetti, 24 years old, New York, New York, $30


Mike, 26 years old, $40


Ralph Smith, 21 years old, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, $25


Roy, ‘in his 20s’, Los Angeles, California, $50


Tim Morgan Jr., 21 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25 / Joe Egure, 18 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25


Tim, 27 years old, Orange County, California, $30


Setting the Scene

Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants), French for ‘living picture’, is a style of artistic presentation, often shortened to simply tableau. It most often describes a group of suitably costumed actors, carefully posed and often theatrically lit.

mise-en-scène; this literally means ‘to put in the scene’ and refers to the process of setting a scene or a stage for a story to be enacted upon.

Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: [accessed 24/02/14]

• What does this scene tell you about the main character?

• How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.

The main character is a very influential man and is well known by those around him.  He has lots of connections and commands special treatment.  He is a wealthy man who rewards those that help him.  He is Good looking and charming.  He is respected and liked.  He lies easily.  He’s smarter and a quick thinker.  He enjoys nice things and good entertainment.  He is illusive and mysterious.

The clues that paint set the scene are:

  • He doesn’t wait in line like all the other customers, he has his own entrance.  The staff at the restaurant all know him and either have a part to play in his wellbeing or ‘look the other way’.  He’s never challenged about his presence in the kitchen despite a long walk through domestic areas.
  • He hands out $20 dollar bills to people who look after him.  This is for things like, looking after  his car, opening doors, getting him a table etc.
  • On entry to the restaurant he is greeted by the owner/manager who has a table setup at the front immediately.
  • He has an attractive woman on his arm who is bewildered by his lifestyle.
  • The group of gentlemen at the table next to him all greet him by his name.
  • The men on the next table have sent drinks to his table.
  • His ‘lady’ questions how he can afford to give out $20 bills like sweets and asks ‘what do you do?’.  He says he works in construction.  When this is challenged he has a story ready.
  • He wears nice clothes, looks good and drives a very nice car.  His date couldn’t believe he would trust someone to look after it.
  • The club is dark, the walls covered in red, with minimal lighting.  Easy to slip in and out of.


Singular Images: Essays on remarkable photographs

In Sophie Howarth’s, Singular Images: Essays on remarkable photographs (2005, London: Tate Publishing), I read the chapter of an Essay by Liz Jobey of Diane Arbus’, A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing.

Jobey’s initial approach is to draw parallels between Arbus’ work and the work of other artist using different mediums, for instance, Raymond Carvers stories of ordinary people with flawed fates.  Using this idea as a spring board Jobey found her introduction into a comprehensive analysis of an assuming ill fated family.

Using French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s base model for the Deconstruction of a photograph: Essentially, in order to fully comprehend how something has been made, you have to take it apart before you can put it back together; Jobey sets about doing exactly that.

Whilst reading the essay the first thing that strikes me is how accurately Roland Barthes use of semiotics come across from beginning to end although not in the clinical way I approach things.

Jobey begins by questioning the motives of the subjects ‘why did they agree to be photographed?’, ‘Will they fight, separate, divorce, marry other people?’, ‘Will they die an early death?’.  A lot of assumptions have been made purely based on the look of these people, however this is recognised as our natural reaction to judge people based their appearance.  I like how Jobey is questioning the viewers reaction to the photograph taking us out of the realms of what sits within the frame.

Following this is a description of the photograph (signifier) itself ‘the leopard skin coat, the leatherette handbag, the camera case, her wedding ring’ etc.  Different viewers will pick out different things from the photograph and Jobey certainly mentioned things that I didn’t see.  She mentions the boy grabbing his crotch and the mum mimicking this behaviour with the baby.  These parallels are looking deeper into the photograph than a first glance.

Jobey then continues to interpret what she sees in the photograph, a down trodden family with problems who may not even be together for much longer.  A woman who’s past her sell by date and a man who’s gripped with anxiety (Signified).  None of this may be true however, it’s what Jobey interprets the image as signifying.

Jobey goes on to work her way through Roland Barthes theories of semiotics in photography using Denotation, connotation, punctum, stadium and intertexuality describing the elements of the photograph, theorising on what they mean and making assumptions on cultural, political and social standings.  Also drawing on her own experiences to interpret the photograph in the way she has leads me to believe she is of quite a negative mind, assuming that alls not well and the people in the photograph are poor and living difficult lives.  The way we see things is dictated by our own culture and background and by the experiences we have throughout our lives.


Wells, L. (2015) Photography A critical Introduction. London: Routledge.


Deconstruction 2

Having reached the end of my ‘Deconstruction’ studies I can can now break down the elements even further.


The French Philosopher Jacques Derrida coined the term ‘Deconstruction’ and beleived language to be polysemous.  He thought that to understand how something is made, you have to take it apart before putting it back together.

In photography language the tools for deconstruction were produced by Roland Barthes, through his study of semiotics.  In this study of signs of language that, Barthes provied us with the terms and tools that can be helpful in interpreting photos.

Using the above advert as a focus point, I have deconstructed it as follows:


Signifiers (whats in the photo)

A baby dressed in pink in a ballerina pose looking towards the sky.

An adult ballerina mimicking the pose.

A baby’s nursery.

A blue teddy bear.

A blue footstool.

Product images with nutrition information.

Signified (what it means)

A healthy start in life provided by Aptamil with aspirations of becoming a ballerina.  The baby is pointing to the milk with her toes suggesting its what she wants.  She is also looking and pointing towards the sky meaning the sky’s the limit with this formula.

Aptamil helps the baby become a professional ballerina who’s healthy, fit and happy.

A milky coloured nursery full of milky dreams.

The blue bear placed next to the cot reiterates this milk is also for boys.  The blue footstool is sending the male message across whilst offering support to a vulnerable new walker.

Its a healthy formula and full of all those important nutrients.

Denotation (objective translation)

A baby of standing age in a ballerina pose with an adult ballerina in the background. Both situated in a baby’s nursery with baby formula shown and text saying ‘Their future starts today’.

Connotation (subjective interpretation)

If the baby drinks this formula she can be healthy and strong enough to fulfil her dreams.

Punctum (disrupting elements)

The UK Law prohibits advertising and promotion of infant formula only (marketed for use from birth). Follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) and milks for older babies can be advertised and promoted – BUT this must not cross-promote infant formula through similar branding or by it not being obvious the product is for older babies.

This advert states that breast milk is best for your baby, in contrast some of the products made by Aptimil.

Stadium (cultural, political and social meaning)

This is a baby who lives in a nice home and is cared for.  She has nice furnishings in her room which suggests that the consumers of Aptamil formula are working/middle class families.  The advert also suggests this baby was breast fed up to six months old in line with the governments efforts to promote the benefits of breastfeeding.  The furnishings look quite neutral but predominantly British or of a Western Culture.  We can see beyond this frame and imagine the family of this baby with a professional father and caring mother.

Intertexuality (individual perception)

Memories and experiences of my own upbringing and bringing up my own children will will fill in all the gaps in this advertisement.  I can picture mum and baby going to baby yoga classes and being strapped into the latest car seat of the latest mpv to get them there.  The baby smells of Johnsons baby powder and her clothes all smell of it too.  All these things from my own experiences filling in the gaps of the story even though they’re not present.



I found this advertisement in BBC Good Food magazine and chose it because it’s not a typical ‘good food’ item.  The mere nature of using BBC good food magazine for this product is suggestive of a good quality food product.


This particular product (not the brand) has a caveat of advertising restrictions due to the governments promotion of breastmilk for newborn babies.  Currently in the Uk the guidelines for advertising formula milk are:

The UK Law prohibits advertising and promotion of infant formula only (marketed for use from birth). Follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) and milks for older babies can be advertised and promoted – BUT this must not cross-promote infant formula through similar branding or by it not being obvious the product is for older babies.

Despite this law I can see a less obvious sign of promoting formula for newborns within the photograph.

A neutral background was used which is typical of the colour choice of expectant parents who don’t know the gender of their unborn baby.  This is a contradiction to the product on offer ‘follow on’ milk’.  The colour of the room suggests a product in readiness for a newborn baby.  As subtle as this suggestion is, it’s still there.  We can see small print at the bottom of the page in line with the UK Law of ensuring it’s clear that the advertisement is strictly for older babies.  What do you see first?  The neutral suggestive colours or the small print?

When deconstructing the elements of the photograph in greater detail I noted the following:

  • Although the background is neutral, the baby is suggestive of a girl.  This image isn’t very clear but she’s actually wearing pink, the ballerina is pink and also the netting on the cot is pink.  This is consistent with the story and could be in danger of creating a female brand.  To counteract this blue items have been added, and are more prominent so they’re noticed,  and there seems to be a gender balance.
  • The story is about a little baby girl who starts to dance like a ballerina and with the help of ‘Aptamil’ her health and good start in life she will fulfil her dreams.
  • The babies head an hand are pointing to the sky suggesting ‘the sky is the limit’.
  • The adult ballerina is a picture of health (thanks to aptamil), physically fit, very happy, successful.
  • The story is strengthened by making the adult ballerina opaque suggesting she’s not real but a representation of the future meaning the baby has aspirations.
  • In case were not clear on whats making the baby so healthy and lively, her toes are pointing to the product in the advertisement.

Theres a lot going on in that advert but ultimately it’s promoting a good quality product for babies to make them healthy and turn them into fit, happy and successful adults.

Elliott Erwitt – Dogs

Elliott erwit 4Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

The first things that me about this composition is the symmetry.  It makes full use of the rule of thirds in both horizontal and vertical.  I can almost picture a measured grid with an important element in each square.  It has a good equal balance and is very pleasing to look at.

Erwitt has chosen to shoot this scene from the viewpoint of the dog with places him (the dog) as the main focus.  From Erwitt’s introduction to his book Dog Dogs, he says that his images are “not pictures of dogs but pictures with dogs in them” and this is evident when we look at what is also included in the frame.  Next to the dogs is two pairs of legs, similar in size and equally spaced apart.  Its takes a while to see that the legs on the left are of another dog and the balance is suddenly even more symmetrical.

Whats interesting with this crop is that we can start to imagine what sits beyond the frame due to the clues given within it.  We can see a pair of dogs front legs but his body and hind legs must be attached even though we can’t see them.  It’s a big dog too, do people see him from their natural eye level and fuss him first before noticing theres a small dog way down there, close to the ground.  The look on the little dogs face is quite telling as he’s looking directly down the camera lens in a quizzical way as if to say, ‘what you are doing down here, this is my world’, adding humour to the narrative.

The way this image is structured makes me think that the story is about how dogs live and how they see things, almost like they live in a different world to humans.  Of course the size of the dog alters their perspective so theres an endless stream of variations.  With a dog so small Erwitt would have had to lie flat on his stomach to gain the perspective of his little world.

What links this little dog to the human world?  His clothing of course.  Dogs have fur to keep them warm however this little dog is wearing a hat and coat.  It’s clever to see that Erwitt has include the bottom part of the ladies coat in the frame too which gives them a connection.  This also gives more of the story away too as it indicates it was cold and we can start to imagine at what time of year this photograph was taken.  Does the big dog also have a hat and coat on?  Thats left to our imagination.