If photographs by Gregory Crewdson were stills from cult classic films, we’d watch them all. Each image overflows with suburban secrets. What led to this moment, and what will happen next? Their stories stretch in both directions without moving a millimetre.
In a film still, every detail is informed by prior and subsequent events. In Crewdson’s cinematic photography, nothing has to mean anything – and yet it does. Figures stare into the distance. Lights glare from beyond the frame. He’s covered in mud. Why? She’s floating across her living room floor. How? Much like a painting, the artist decides every detail. Crewdson's photographs call to mind a tableau by Edouard Manet. People, objects and phenomena coexist in meticulously arranged, quasi-candid moments. With each life-size diorama, he subverts the truth we expect from a camera.
Production crews big enough for Hollywood blockbusters make it all possible. Entire rooms built from scratch. Dry streets made slick with fire engine hoses. Spotlights, special effects, cherry pickers, pyrotechnics. As smartphones and artificial intelligence make photography easier and easier, Crewdson makes it as difficult as he possibly can.
Twilight, 25 years on
Shot between 1998 and 2002 in the Massachusetts town where Crewdson spent childhood holidays in a log cabin, the Twilight series has come to represent a critical juncture for his practice. 40 images inspired by everyday life in the American landscape set a thematic and technical precedent for much of his work since and – in parallel – have had a far-reaching impact on photography, film, fashion and visual culture.
Whenever a set designer or director prepares a moodboard, invariably, there’s a Gregory Crewdson photograph.Cate Blanchett
The Twilight series sees Crewdson search for meaning within his own preoccupations. Everything is liminal in one way or another. Suburbia sits at the boundary between the natural world and the city; ambiguous, un-modern objects and cars shirk straightforward associations; windows and thresholds become focal points as portals between public and private space; paranormal (or seemingly so) occurrences soften the edges of reality; the 'magic hour' of twilight marries natural and artificial illumination with a promise of darkness to come. Even the staged moments themselves are not quite climactic – instead suggesting pause, transition or aftermath.
Photography gives you access to worlds that you wouldn’t be in normally.Gregory Crewdson
Collect a Gregory Crewdson Twilight print
To mark the series’ 25th anniversary, we’ve created our first time-limited photographic prints. Three Gregory Crewdson print editions will be available individually or as a triptych for 24 hours on Thursday 16 November. Prints are individually signed. Bespoke framing options are available. Worldwide shipping is free.
1. Untitled [Man in Car with Shed]
Reflecting on Twilight, Rick Moody describes “nature at its most artificial.” In the first print, dense foliage and cracked tarmac give way to painted wooden houses and manicured gardens. At the meeting point of suburbia with something altogether more wild, Crewdson configures a mysterious relationship between a man, his car and a luminous open shed.
I’m revisiting this picture on the 25th Anniversary of Twilight because, as my first street scene of this kind, it has become very important in my iconography and visual language. Its significance in the context of my larger body of work is very striking in retrospect.Gregory Crewdson
2. Untitled [Circle on Window]
In a 2020 interview for his book Alone Street, Cate Blanchett asks Crewdson about the “profound sense of waiting” that many of his subjects share. Much like twilight, they are caught in between. Stuck in their lives. Crewdson calls it “psychological paralysis.” The second print centres on a woman staring out to the world through a circle drawn in the dust on her window. A plastic-wrapped lamp in the corner echoes her predicament.
Perfect circles have been an ongoing motif. They have a certain visual quality that works well in pictures, but I also like them in terms of what they signify in our lives and the ways we think. The woman in this picture has drawn a circle on the window that separates her interior space from a larger world that she peers out toward.Gregory Crewdson
3. Untitled [Ray of Light]
The final print illuminates a grassy street corner with a cold beam of light. Its source lies beyond the frame, high enough to imply extraterrestrial origins. Joyce Carol Oates suggests that the questions posed by Crewdson's cinematic photography are not mysteries to be solved, but mysteries to experience. She concludes that if anyone knew the answers – viewer or artist – their magic would be lost.
I like the way that something as simple as a ray of light can change a landscape from ordinary to mysterious or uncanny. Light becomes a narrative code. Here, the ray of light offers a sense of something larger than us – expansive or transcendent. There are moths in the picture, which are a motif that runs through my work. In this case, I took real moths that I photographed for a previous series and composited them into the light.Gregory Crewdson
How did Gregory Crewdson shoot Twilight?
All 40 images from Twilight were shot on a Sinar F1 8x10 camera using 300mm and 210mm lenses. Elaborate, multi-layered arrays of tungsten, fluorescent and HMI fixtures lit each scene. The vast crew included everything from aerial engineers and pyrotechnicians to bug wranglers, a taxidermist and the local fire department.