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David Lynch ‘Changed My Life,’ Says Photographer Gregory Crewdson

The haunting still images of fine art photographer Gregory Crewdson grow out of his vision of a place both sad and beautiful, he told audiences at the Camerimage film festival this week.

Devotees of his large-format portraits of strange, melancholy scenes seemingly captured from the fringes of America’s working-class life suppressed their party hangovers to attend a morning screening of the short docu “Gregory Crewdson: There But Not There” at the Opera Nova hall in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and to meet the film’s main subject.

Crewdson’s new gallery show “Cathedral of the Pines” also opened this week alongside the art of David Lynch in the Polish town of Turon, just outside Bydgoszcz, a pairing Crewdson said was moving to him.

Lynch’s 1986 film “Blue Velvet” was a major inspiration for Crewdson as a young artist and grad student at Yale and “changed my life,” he said during the Camerimage opening gala Saturday.

Indeed, Crewdson’s images of lost, damaged-looking people standing around carefully composed and lit scenes of chaotic desperation seemingly share much with Lynch’s stories and characters. He has also cited the worlds of Alfred Hitchcock, Edward Hopper and Diane Arbus as inspirations.

The key to finding the perfect locations, he told his audience, is “me driving around endlessly in a car.”

Having built his work since 1992, when he set about rendering everyday life through images of the people of Lee, Massachusetts, Crewdson goes to remarkable lengths in casting, as “There But Not There” shows.

He meticulously seeks out subjects for his photographs from local residents in small-town settings, a method recorded in the short docu by Juliane Hiam, using material never intended for public release, the artist said.

The film does not reveal a great deal about how he works beyond casting, Crewdson said. “In terms of process, not a lot happens. There’s a lot of hanging out.”

Yet the docu does delve into the instinctive way he seeks out subjects to pose in 8-by-10 photographs, often standing in awkward, forlorn-looking poses aside clunker cars, abandoned houses or in ominous clearings in the woods.

He’s looking for people with “something that exist beneath the surface,” Crewdson tells Hiam during the decade-old footage, which focuses on his creation of the “Beneath the Roses” picture series.

This period was also chronicled in the docu feature “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” by Ben Shapiro.

Hiam, who filmed Crewdson as he met with amateur models with expressive but never conventionally beautiful looks, said her film was a discovery to her as she dug out the footage from her archives.

Crewdson also revealed that, despite the masterful quality of his photographic work, he would happily ditch the camera if capturing “a very elusive moment” were possible any other way. With images often shot at twilight, recording “a moment between moments,” he said he’s always seeking an instant in time “where everything seems to make sense for a minute or two.”

Blending elaborate stage lighting with the glare of brake lights, reflected fluorescents, wet asphalt and natural sunset and blue-hour tones, Crewdson says, is essential in his work with DP Rick Sands: “Light is everything.”

With crews and setups on a par with many indie films, Crewdson has built experience working with not just his fascinating subjects enlisting the cooperation of city departments and entire townships.

At the same time, he confesses, he finds it essential to keep some distance between himself and his models, choosing not to spend time getting to know them personally. He believes the mysterious quality to his images, in which viewers feel compelled to fill in a story to explain the scene before them, requires him to “remove myself from it in some way.”

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