Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Until Sunday 08 October

Gregory Crewdson's show Cathedral of the Pines at the Photographers' Gallery represents, to this reviewer, photography as time travel.* The reference is to 19th century America: pioneering; enduring. The setting, the pine woods of Western Massachusetts, were previously loud with saw milling, manly cries, and lumber camps. The people in the scenes, dressed plainly, with background props that look like heirlooms, are contemporary to the years 2013-14 when the shots were taken.

Bringing us up to date, the techniques the photographer uses are 21st century - multiple shots filmed (a film crew assisted) in all seasons over a 2-year period then layered, superimposed, merged and digitally stitched together in the studio. 

The pictures are striking. Never, I felt, was the hyped reality of coupledom [in America at least] laid so bare. Scene after framed photographic scene appears where, for example, a woman, nude or nearly nude, unhappily unsatisfied, stares into space, her erstwhile partner, similarly disrobed, heavily asleep beside her, either on a bed or truck bed. In other scenes, women stand staring out of windows, the windows fully entering the frame as a metaphor that both confines the women and shows them the world outside. One, her lithe limbs trailed puppet-like from a sofa, a beaker of red wine almost emptied beside her, while her partner watches television beer to hand, seems sunk in well-lit torpor.

If this is American history reimagined, the tableaux-like quality of the work is appropriate. As is the sense of time standing still, of nature lending softness to those earlier lives and the passing of those earlier dreams. The contemporary people dwarfed by tall trees and packhorse bridges are real enough - but hopefully their solitude is not. The scenes belong to a time when men worked and were away from home for long hours, returning exhausted, to eat, to have peremptory sex, and to sleep.
 

I'm glad I went twice. (The Photographers' Gallery by the way runs a daily free slot between 10.00 (11.00 on Sundays) and 12.00 am.) I finally saw the painterly qualities of the work. The way the forest trails, the rusted machinery and packhorse bridges evoke a kind of time past, peopled by these contemporary Americans - the descendants of pioneering ancestors - acting out scenes from their ancestors' history. Even if today men go back to their roots occasionally, fishing in the ice lake or hunting in the forest to bring back game, they will present it to their wives - but hopefully give them a warm hug in the process. In one scene a woman stands at her sink preparing the kill for the cooking pot - she certainly looks minus the hug.

* Not everyone's opinion. The repeated nudity, particularly the female nudity, has been found voyeuristic by some commentators.

Gregory Crewdson is professor at Yale University School of Art from which he has an MFA.

ADMISSION TO EXHIBITION:
Exhibition Day Pass £4 (£2.50 Concession)
Advance Online Booking £2.50
Free for 18 or under
Free admission before 12.00 every day

The Photographers' Gallery 
16-18 Ramillies Street 
London W1


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