Does nudity cause melancholy or does melancholy lead to nudity?
I wondered this as I looked at the flesh of the lounge sat naked women of photography Gregory Crewdson’s latest exhibition, Cathedral of the PInes.
It had been an odd morning. I had spent it in a recording studio with Ricky Gervais and he barely squawked at all. For those unaware of the back story, there was a time when I became a hybrid stress ball/toy for the popular, award winning Office star. As admirers of his work know, he is a keen fan of embarrassment and, when not dramatising in front of the cameras for comedic purposes, he tries to infuse all those around him with it. When we did a 100 date tour together, each day offered new ways that he would try to make my life irritating, goading others to adorn me with make up, hang me upside down from clothes rails or bury me in sofas with grapes forced into my eyes. It was not normal. When not physically manhandling me, he would sing songs from the Muppets as if lengthily interpreted by John Cage or just make a high pitched noise like a seagull.
I warily walked up the stairs to the studio, suspicious of traps. There were none. A short burst of boisterous excitement, then we were all serious as the recording began. It was almost monkish.
I was hoping that when Richard Dawkins joined us, all that repressed id insanity would explode out and Ricky would squeal “AHHHH RICHARD” before cawing and yelping like a distressed gannet.
Richard would then explain why Ricky had evolved this behaviour.
500 metres down the road from the studio, I was reasonably certain there were no traps, and decided to pop into The Photographers’ Gallery to see the Gregory Crewdson exhibition.
I don’t remember when I first became aware of his work, either a Sunday newspaper supplement or a small exhibition in an American gallery. I think the first image I saw was the woman floating in her flooded kitchen like a suburban Ophelia. It adorns the front of his collection Twilight.
Each photograph is a play.
Each set up is like a film.
Crewdson’s photographs are the antithesis of Vivian Maier, the nanny who was discovered to have taken hundreds of thousands of photographs, almost illicitly, snapping away with an instinctual and rapid eye. Each location he uses is like a set, carefully dressed and lit, the actors of each scene never left to their own devices. To compare him to Edward Hopper is inescapable. His photographs have predominantly suburban settings where the sweat stained white collar worker looks on at or looks away from their reality. Some stories are more complex than others.
Some photographs seem to be moments caught between events happening or after them. Many of his performers are in contemplation and what they see brings no joy.
The naked pregnant woman looks out of the door that’s ajar.
The naked tattooed woman stands in the street as a her naked partner sits in the camper van.
We see the view from the window of three rescue workers walking across an icy lake, the window frame obscuring the detail that will reveal the incident they have been called to.
It may be wrong, but I have started to find some of these photographs funny. Too much contemplative melancholy in the pines over three floors can teeter towards the absurd.
The sad woman in her underwear standing outside the decaying phone booth in the woods started to make me smile.
Some scenes are caught between interpretation between death bed scenarios or slobbish and lethargic parents.
It seems that many more woman like to be nude in the lounge during Massachusetts’ winter months than men. The heating bills must be through the roof. There are also some entertainingly barren outside toilets.
Each photograph is as beautifully composed as the last, though I wonder what would happen to his photographs if anyone ever seemed to be happy in them.
Now is your time to experiment. Stand nude in your front room and see how it changes your mood, the choice of open or closed blinds is yours.
I am off on tour with my art/science/mental hubbub show from next week – Leeds, Hull, Nottingham, Barnard Castle, Salford and 43 or so more. Details here.
Ricky’s Sirius Radio series starts soon.
The Gregory Crewdson exhibition is at The Photographers’ Gallery for a few more weeks.