Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines - The Photographers Gallery 

‘Cathedral of the Pines’ is an absolutely magnificent exhibition by Gregory Crewdson, held at The Photographers Gallery in London. 

Crewdson was born in New York, (1962) and looks to American homes and neighbourhoods as inspiration and settings for his photography. His photographs are usually of small towns in America and are often of surreal and disturbing events. 

‘Cathedral of the Pines’ starts on the top floor of the gallery and as soon as you enter the room you’re transported into the stories behind these photographs. The pictures are the shape and size of windows, as Crewsdon wanted the viewer to feel as though they were looking through an actual window, watching the lives and situations of the people captured in the photos. 

None of the photographs have a description, only a name, as Crewdson wanted people to look at the collection of pictures and create their own story, either from their imagination, or their own lives and associations. Each picture is a story condensed, as it has no beginning and no end, and yet that frozen tableaux can tell the onlooker an entire history. 

The range of people subjected in the photographs is varied; young and older couples, siblings, pregnant women, people alone and children. In not one of the photographs is there a single smile, even from the children. Every story told is a tragic, gloomy tale. Almost every person in the photographs is also either half-dressed, or fully naked, which is symbolic of their vulnerability.

In the first gallery, one photograph, ’The Disturbance’, (2014) shows a woman, looking worried, staring out of her window over a frozen lake while emergency services walk across the lake, searching for something, as though a crime or an accident had occurred.  ‘The Mattress’, (2014) shows a police car in the foggy woods, with a man standing over a dirty, old mattress, surrounded in every direction by towering trees. This could possibly relate to the incident in ‘The Disturbance’ but the connection is as unclear as the fog in the photograph, leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusion. 

‘Woman in Bathroom’, (2013) shows a naked woman standing in front of a bathroom mirror, although she is looking away, creating a disconnection with herself. From behind, the woman’s naked body is visible and with the reflection of her face and bare chest in the mirror, the viewer is fully exposed to her, and yet will never be able to know what thoughts haunt her mind.

An incredibly powerful photograph is ‘The Telephone Booth’ (2014), which shows a half-dressed woman in a small clearing near a river, trailer homes parked nearby, staring desperately at a phone booth. However, the booth is empty and does not contain a phone. The emptiness inside the phone booth is perhaps reflective of a disconnect from the world outside the woman’s world while her desperation is a longing to escape or call for help.

There are many different human interest stories to be extracted from this exhibition, depending on subjective interpretation but the collection of these images set in nature is objectively visually stunning.  Trees, rivers, snow and ice and the sense of vastness of the American landscape beyond the small town inhabitants portrayed is both beautiful and isolating.

Crewsdon’s collection of photographs in this exhibition is an invitation to a journey into the private worlds of people who reside deep within America.  Their worlds are both sheltered and cut off by nature, creating a dichotomy that heightens their loneliness and allows the viewer to focus on the vastness of emotion that inhabits their personal space.  This exhibition is a journey into the human condition that is not to be missed.

Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines is on at The Photographers Gallery until 8th October 2017.  More information may be found here.

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