In his new documentary feature, Brief Encounters, Ben Shapiro introduces photographer Gregory Crewdson: a man from Park Slope with a unique eye for the uncanny. Shapiro walks us through the photographic process and reveals, step by step, the meticulous orchestration behind each of Crewdson’s frozen moments.
Crewdson’s finished photographs are presented like narratives suspended in time. Within each image is a chilling juxtaposition of beauty and despair, and a subject whose gaze seemingly transcends the material, while remaining rooted to the physical world. In his series, Beneath the Roses, for instance, one photograph displays a visibly exhausted and frail man, grimly contemplative in an archaic armchair, presumably watching television. Instead of being enveloped by the glow of the television, however, an eerie yet hopeful beam of light shines down on him. Viewers are left to interpret the light’s origin within the otherwise bleak setting.
Most of Crewdson’s photographs, notably those in Beneath the Roses, are taken at dusk: a time when doors close, ties are undone, and, as Crewdson describes, the bulk of society transitions from the public to the private domain. In these moments, society seems at its most sincere and most vulnerable. Crewdson takes this idea a step further by placing his camera behind doorframes and through windowpanes, providing a glimpse of characters without costumes—often pitifully unaware of our voyeurism—and a haunting exposé of the human soul.
Shapiro’s precision as a filmmaker reflects Crewdson’s precision as a photographer, and by the documentary’s finish, viewers have gained a privileged understanding of the photographic process. Sparing no detail of Crewdson’s practice, Shapiro provides high-definition close-ups of Crewdson’s work , as well as intermittent interviews with art enthusiasts, including Crewdson himself.
In one interview, Crewdson claims that Beneath the Roses required a production budget as large as the average independent film’s, and describes his worth ethic as being similar to a filmmaker’s instead of a still photographer’s. Crewdson draws inspiration from directors David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock in his most recent series. But unlike in a film, Crewdson does not use montage to create meaning. Instead, he offers a single image; one whose context we create and whose meaning we ascribe.