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photo-eye Book Reviews: In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place, Photographs by Gregory Crewdson.
Published by Abrams, 2011.
In a Lonely Place
Reviewed by Daniel W. Coburn
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Gregory Crewdson In a Lonely Place
Photographs by Gregory Crewdson. Text by Craig Burnett
Abrams, New York, 2011. Hardbound. 160 pp., 30 color and 40 duotone illustrations, 12x8-1/4".

In a Lonely Place transports the viewer to the intersection of beauty and alienation. Themes of isolation, sadness, and desire form the connective tissue between Gregory Crewdson's seminal bodies of work. This latest monograph provides a unique opportunity to view a comprehensive set of images from Beneath the Roses, Sanctuary, and Fireflies in a single hardbound volume. The text and imagery work in communion to provide Crewdson's audience with insight into the artist's inspirations and artistic motivations.

In Beneath the Roses, Crewdson mesmerizes his audience with the beauty of cinematic artifice, while simultaneously providing an entry point into a dark implied narrative. In one photo, a late model sedan is the first to round a corner through a fresh snow pack on Main Street. The trunk lid is slightly ajar so one can barely begin to make out its contents, which are dimly illuminated by an interior light. A woman appears seated in a diner on the street corner in a composition that directly references Edward Hopper's painting, Nighthawks. Crewdson engages the viewer by presenting a mystery, a question that can never be resolved, suspending his audience in a moment between before and after. These images possess a disturbing psychological undercurrent, which subtly reveals the sinister side of small town life.

In a Lonely Place, by Gregory Crewdson. Published by Abrams, 2011.
Crewdson eventually makes a complete departure from the highly saturated color depictions of rural America. In Sanctuary, he makes a series of photographs in black and white and takes his camera abroad. As a master of the directorial approach to photography, Crewdson must have felt at home wandering the back lots and dilapidated movie sets of Rome's Cinecitta. These studios were founded by Mussolini for propaganda purposes in 1937 and were later bombed by Western Allies during World War II. The reader accompanies the artist as he navigates through a labyrinth of broken scaffolds and deteriorating facades that once convincingly mimicked neoclassical architecture. In contrast to Beneath the Roses, Sanctuary is a beautiful representation of a fallen utopia that is all but completely devoid of a human presence. The first image in the series confronts the reader with a set of weathered wooden doors swung wide open. This passageway reveals the interior of a triumphant arch basked in evening sunlight. In several instances, these post apocalyptic landscapes become a metaphor for hope.

In a Lonely Place, by Gregory Crewdson. Published by Abrams, 2011.
Years before Crewdson conceived the hauntingly enigmatic images of Beneath the Roses and Sanctuary, he photographed fireflies scribing their presence in light over a dark foreboding foreground. While some of these images seem similar or redundant, each of them is distinct as the photographer uses the camera to record the unique marks made by these creatures during their annual mating ritual. These images possess a calming simplicity that offers quiet respite after contemplating the intense story lines of the aforementioned work. These black and white photos evoke feelings of isolation, a characteristic that is present in all of Crewdson’s work. The artist uses the camera to contemplate his role as the lonely observer.

In a Lonely Place, by Gregory Crewdson. Published by Abrams, 2011.
I thoroughly enjoyed the images in this 160 page volume and I found the texts to be relevant and informative. Crewdson goes into great detail about his inspirations drawn from artists such as Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and many others. Craig Burnett contributed the essay A Flaneur Among the Ruins, in which he elaborates on Crewdson's use of light as a "symbol of desire." This book will undoubtedly be a valuable and important addition to the Crewdson library.—DANIEL W. COBURN

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DANIEL W. COBURN is a contemporary photographer whose visually arresting images have garnered national and international praise. Selections from his body of work have been featured in prestigious exhibitions at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the Chelsea Museum of Art in New York. In 2007, Coburn was a recipient of the Artist-In-Residence award at Rocky Mountain National Park. He published a photographic essay entitled Rediscovering Paradise which focused on the impact of an overwhelming human presence in the National Park. He was a recipient of the 2008 Kansas Mid-Career Artist Fellowship Award presented by the Kansas Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Coburn's prints are held in many public and private collections including The Mulvane Museum of Art, The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, The Mariana Kistler-Beach Museum of Art and the Moraine Park Museum. Daniel is co-author of a book entitled "Between Earth and Sky" which showcases his collection of photographs from the Midwest. His writings and photographs appear regularly in regional and national publications including Fraction Magazine and photo-eye Magazine. Coburn recieved his BFA with an emphasis in photography from Washburn University where he was the recipient of numerous honors including the prestigious Charles and Margaret Pollak Award. He is currently an instructor and graduate student studying photography at the University of New Mexico.

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