Analysis: Why does Gregory Crewdson use people in dramatic sets?

Gregory Crewdson is an American photographer, renowned for his elaborately devised photographs of small-town life, digs into the commonplace and familiar to find images that are haunting, surreal and profoundly unnerving. His images are in abundance with detail, balanced with a striking lack of information—the settings are ordinary and, more importantly, the frame is de-contextualized: we don’t know what happens before or after, or who these people even are.

His creative purview encompasses careful staging with a sizable crew, who attend to location scouting, set lighting, casting, makeup, props and storyboards. His images are hard to decipher individually, but cumulatively they’re threaded together by their very sense of atmospheric suspension. But why does he uses people in dramatic sets?

Crewdson’s images are hard to decipher individually, but cumulatively they’re threaded together by their very sense of atmospheric suspension. Thus this post sets out to analyse Crewdson’s work and how he uses people to form his narrative story.


For Crewdson, there was a necessary alienation between him and his subject. He didn’t want to have any intimate contact with them. The end result of the image was about being narratives and storytelling. Since there were no before or after in his images, he did not want the sense of conscious awareness of any kind in his literal narrative.

Crewdson believes what the viewer brings to it is more important than what he brings to it. He believes by privileging the moment, the viewer would be more likely to project their own narrative onto the picture. Hence, he prefers people to be drawn into the pictures and that the bring their own history and own interpretation of the image.


Even though his photos convey such intense moment of isolation, they can be deeply interpersonal. A lot of them tell stories of the kind of isolation that one can feel in our own head. His images sort of dramatised this moment. Not only because they sometimes feature two people having a very different experience in one space, but also because those moments were echoed when the viewer looked at the figures in the image but can’t access their thoughts. These figures seem to have become stand-ins for his own need to make a connection.



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