Thursday, December 21, 2006

My best shot / Gregory Crewdson / The woman was an alcoholic

The woman was an alcoholic
Pittsfield, Massachusettsby Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson's best shot

'The house belonged to an alcoholic who drank herself to sleep every night.'

Thursday 21 December 2006 

his photograph isn't particularly well known, and it's very ordinary in many respects, but it defined my interests as an artist. I made it when I was 25, between my first and second years at graduate school at Yale, when I was starting to try to find a language of photography that would create a sense of mystery in everyday life.

The picture was made in a house near a baseball field in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The stadium wasn't particularly important in terms of the meaning of the picture, I was just drawn to that location because I loved the way the light illuminated the nocturnal setting.

I would wander around the area taking pictures at night, and I found this house and knocked on the door. A middle-aged woman answered, and it turned out she lived there alone. I asked her if I could photograph around her house, and she agreed. The woman was an alcoholic, and I had complete licence to wander round her house at night while she drank herself to sleep. Usually by the end of the night she'd be passed out on the couch and I'd be on the roof watching the baseball game. It was very sad.
The picture was done on a very modest scale, with none of the large production values I have now. It was taken with a 6x7cm medium format camera. The lighting is a combination of the light from the baseball field and my own lights, set up in the interior of the house to give a blueish cast. I brought the curtains with me, so that was an embellishment on my part. It makes it that bit more theatrical and that bit more domestic.
When I was making the picture I felt very alive, very directed. I had a longing for that place, so I went back a couple of years ago and the house had been torn down. It makes this image even more of a figment of my imagination.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

My best shot / Alec Soth / Melissa

Photo by Alec Soth

Alec Soth's best shot

Thursday 7 December 2006 

his was part of a project I did over the course of a couple of years at Niagara Falls, the former honeymoon capital of the world. I had an agreement with this particular wedding chapel, attached to a motel called the Flamingo Inn, that I could approach newlyweds after their ceremonies.

The woman was called Melissa. I took her photograph just after she was married, right outside the room she was staying in. You'll notice that her husband isn't in the picture - it's such a difficult thing photographing a couple, because the power of a portrait is that you get to have a relationship with a person by staring into their eyes. When there are two people, it's kind of complicated - you don't know who to look at. So I realised I could separate out the couple and photograph them individually, which gives the picture a different kind of poignancy.

That quiet, expressionless expression is something that has come into a lot of my photographs. I use an 8in-by-10in view camera and I put a dark cloth over my head, so it's a very slow process, and people have to be still. I like this because I prefer the subject to be quiet and move inside themselves, so they are in a reflective state. That's part of the power of this picture, I think: she's neither happy nor sad. She's reflective, and she has this new life ahead of her.
Technically, there's nothing fancy about it; there aren't five assistants standing around me with lighting equipment. But one of the things I like to do with portraits is use the depth of field to almost carve the person out of the space. So the way the focus falls away in the background means Melissa just pops out, giving something unusually life-like to the image - in some ways you need to see an actual print to have this happen.
There's always one little detail that makes an image work, and for me it's that water in the lower left. It was raining out, and it feels like the Falls are creeping in, tugging at her dress. There's also that thing about rain on your wedding day, which is supposed to be good luck. It rained on my wedding day, and Melissa sort of reminds me of my wife, so I have this funny relationship to the image that way - one that doesn't matter to anyone else.
Curriculum Vitae Born Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1969 Studied Sarah Lawrence College, New York Career high Going into a library and seeing my book on the shelf Career low The summer I assisted a born-again product photographer Inspirations My work is often compared to the colour photographers who emerged in the 1970s. They're an obvious infl uence, but I'm equally inspired by a wide range of photographers. My answer for today is Josef Koudelka Pet hate Fish-eye lenses Ambition To produce a great book of photographs Dream subject Hermits, Scarlett Johansson, happy people, the Amazon, unusually tall people, Welsh countryside, and on and on . . .
Interview by Leo Benedictus