OCA Level 3: Body of Work/Contextual Studies

Tag: Research

Research Task: Gregory Crewdson

See: Gregory Crewdson

In Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, Michael Fried argues against a type of image that he designates as ‘theatrical’ in style, that is, obviously staged and artificial looking. Fried’s aesthetic preference is for ‘anti-theatrical’ images, and he argues that overt theatricality interferes with the viewer’s ability to identify and empathise with what is displayed in the scene. (Bate, 2015: 50) 

Although Gregory Crewdson is not referenced by Fried, it would seem obvious that his overtly constructed images are exactly the kind of picture that Fried would describe as ‘theatrical’. Fried does discuss the work of Jeff Wall at length, he views Wall’s strategy of creating images that he describes as ‘near documentary’ to be “fundamentally, an antitheatrical ideal”. (Fried, 2008: 66) On the surface this is an innocent enough comment – aesthetically Crewdson’s draws deliberate attention to the constructed nature of his images both in terms of style and staging, but also because of the way the people he shows in his constructed tableaux seem alienated from their surroundings. Wall on the other hand, more often than not, strives to present authentic and naturalistic scenes that initially seem banal, common place and everyday. The post production work that is employed by both Crewdson and Wall is comparably complex, yet, Crewdson aims to highlight this (the signature impression is that the images have an uncanny, hyperreal quality) while Wall strives to make his final composites appear as natural as possible. This is a significant distinction of intent with Crewdson deliberately foregrounding artifice  and Wall attempting to disguise the heavily constructed nature of his images. Instinctively, it is Wall’s approach that I prefer, even though I know that all photographs are illusion. With this thought in mind, I wonder if I have missed something about Crewdson’s work – although his images are clearly constructed they are also clearly real world settings that we can identify and recognise. As well as the many references that are present in his work, Crewdson could also be making a comment on the very nature of photographic representation and the false way this relates to reality. The relationship to reality that Wall’s work displays is now more than carefully a carefully considered application of the conventions of photographic realism. It could be argued that Crewdson, by drawing attention to the artifice inherent in his work, is challenging the viewer to question everything they see in the images.  


Badger, G. (2001) The Genius of Photography: How Photography Has Changed Our Lives. London: Quadrille Publishing.

Bate, D. (2015) Art Photography. London: Tate Publishing.

Berg, S. (2007) (ed.) Gregory Crewdson: 1985-2005. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Campany, D. (2013) Art and Photography. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Campany, D. (2020) On Photographs. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Colberg, J. (2020) Photography’s Neoliberal Realism. Mack

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd Ed.) London: Thames and Hudson

Dyer, G. (2021) See/Saw: Looking at Photographs. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Ltd. 

Crewdson, G. (2008) Beneath the Roses. New York: Abrams.

Fried, M. (2008) Why Photography Matters As Art As Never Before. Yale University Press New Haven.

Scott, G. (2012) Gregory Crewdson. The United Nations of Photography. At: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2012/10/23/gregory-crewdson/ (accessed 27th June 2021)

Scott, G. (2021) Thoughts on Gregory Crewdson… The United Nations of Photography. At: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2021/02/21/thoughts-on-gregory-crewdson/ (accessed 27th June 2021)

Soutter, L. (2018) Why Art Photography? (2nd ed.) Oxon: Routledge.

Warner Marien, M. (2014) Photography: A Cultural History (4th Edition) London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Bess Atwell

Listening to the radio one Sunday morning, I heard a song by Bess Atwell that I enjoyed and added it to my Spotify playlist. I had not heard of Atwell before so had a quick look at her bio on Spotify and it immediately resonated with me:

“There is a comfort in the familiar. Yet it is precisely when we are most comfortable that we begin to ask questions. Artist Bess Atwell is full of questions: on life, death, love, loss…and how things at that at first seem mundane become profound when looked at in a different light.”

Out of all of the reading I have been doing lately, it is theories of the everyday and everyday life that continue to come back to me. I love the idea of how the “mundane [can] become profound when looked at in a different light” – it is something that I am beginning to realise is the overarching theme of my photography and also something that is usually present in the work of artists of all genres that I admire and enjoy. 


Tracy Chevalier on Tom Hunter and daily life

Living in Hell, from the series ‘Living in Hell and Other Stories’ (2003-4) ©Tom Hunter (Reproduced with permission)

Researching the  work of Tom Hunter, I came across this quote by Tracy Chevalier from her essay ‘Making an Art Out of Telling Stories’ from the catalogue accompanying Hunter’s series Living in Hell and Other Stories:

“Everyday life is full of small, familiar moments strung together that repeat themselves over and over. We eat, we breathe, we walk, we sit, we talk, we sleep. How peculiar when something outside of that mantra erupts; it shakes the placid surface of daily life. That, whether we admit it or not, is thrilling.” (Hunter, 2006: 12)

These words perfectly encapsulate what makes Hunter’s series, in which he recreates scenes suggested by lurid and sensational headlines he came across in his local paper The Hackney Gazette – the banality of the everyday and familiar transformed momentarily.


Hunter, T. (2006) Living in Hell and Other Stories. London: National Gallery Company Limited.

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