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Forget 24FPS, How About a Hollywood Production for Just One Photo?

12.29.12 @ 5:08PM Tags : , , , , , ,

Exercising micromanagement and fine-tune control over the minutia of scenery is a must in filmmaking for all but the most hardcore run-and-gun-style productions. It’s not very often, however, that you see production-level set design and construction, prop manipulation down to the inch, or cinema lighting used to illuminate deep lived-in landscapes in still photography. Gregory Crewdson does just this, implementing an unheard-of degree of visionary control upon the constituents of his still frames — the image at left, for one, is no incidental happenstance. Filmmaker Ben Shapiro has documented Crewdson’s decade-spanning pursuit of creating true-to-life vignettes by fictitious articulation in Brief Encounters — screenings are limited, but the doc looks to be a must-see. Watch the trailer and some clips from the film below.

The word that popped into my head, which wouldn’t dissipate for some time after viewing, was simply, “Wow.” It may be needless to say, but I’ve been on many a film production without the degree of artistic manipulation Crewdson achieves here. That may be because traditionally, a crew that spends considerable time and energy to set up the perfect shot (nature permitting and all, sunsets are important) can take comfort in the fact their work lives on a lot of pictures — generally, you know, around 24 a second. Followed by other shots, coverage, and a resultant living and moving scene. Here, a living scene is certainly created, but on a scale all its own. The scene is the still, the unmoving master — and everything the viewer needs to know, see, and feel has been crafted and instilled into it.

It’s worth reiterating — this amount of design and preparation is for a single, perfect still image:

I’ll include a final clip — this one details the genesis of Crewdson’s part-staged part-natural stylings, and how crisis can birth (and maybe even be alleviated by) a singular creative vision:

If this incredible creative process and accomplishment interests you, be sure to check out Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters‘s website, where you can find one of the limited screenings near you, as well as reserve yourself a seat.


[via The Verge]


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Description image 46 COMMENTS

  • Darren Wolff on 12.29.12 @ 5:29PM


  • No offence to the filmmaker, but it will bore the shit out of regular audience.

  • Simply incredible.

  • great story, loved it, thanks

  • Truly amazing work, its very striking how much you can achieve with just one picture.

  • Not trying to piss on Gregory fire, but I think it is disrespectful to real photographers for Gregory or anybody to think what he is doing make him great….let get real are we that despite to lable anything “Art” or “Good” any more??…..most with a budget like his can do this……to me a real photographer find the perefect moment out of many, not fake one…..just saying

    • So a capture of a fleeting moment has more inherent worth to you than a painstakingly constructed moment?

      Shame on all those painters and their contrivances over the last 1000 years. :) I’d say this is image making not photojournalism.

    • Granted the budgets he’s working with are far beyond anything that most photographers could ever dream of, but he’s also creating work that no other photographer in the world can touch. So to say that he’s not a real photographer seems absolutely ludicrous to me.

      • Allan Crocket on 12.29.12 @ 8:33PM

        Im with Robert, Roger Deakins gets huge budgets and knows what to do with them. This is great to see.

    • Alvin, I must say I totally disagree with you… What about the conception of the whole picture? Doesn’t that mean anything to you?!? Hitchcock himself used to say that he planned every shot with so much attention to detail that the actual shooting was the boring part…

      • ThunderBolt on 12.29.12 @ 10:21PM

        Agreed. Having been a professional photographer since the 1980′s, real photographers do a number of things including set-ups to drive a message. This isn’t photojournalism, this is more toward fine art, which brings a hefty price tag. Many have done the same vignettes and have made $kk’s per printed image. This work is well thought out and for the most part… flawless. For three years I was a shooter for newswires and a daily metro. During this time there were a few that refused to have any filter, skylight or UV because they thought this wasn’t true journalism, it altered what real was. They’re mindset went for purity, which falls short from the final image to waht would be seen with your eyes at the moment of capturing the image. Fidelity of film is not the same as what is being interpreted eye to brain. Adding UV would be the best means in which to capture what the eye sees and the brian interprets.

        This is beautiful work.

      • Fernando, at the end of the day Hitchcock was making a movie not a still picture….movies are reenactment of something that took place or going to take place, so yes you need to think it out, a still photo is what is capture at that time and space…’s cool if he wants to fake the perfect still photo, but the problem here is don’t call yourself or people label you as a great photographer………at the end of the day, he FAKE his photo….and that’s a fact

        • Photographs Are Lies… err, “Stories”

          I think that might be a bold statement, I’m not sure. This is not an attack on the more recent flood of highly computer-processed images. While that plays a part in what I’m talking about it’s not the focus.

          What I do mean is that us as humans usually take things at face value, accept it as fact and move on. I’ve spent a good amount of time assisting an architectural photographer. Basically I just do all the grunt work. A huge part of my job is making the object of interest presentable to be photographed. So this means the photographer will set up the camera in say, a living room, and then I look through the viewfinder on the camera and organize the stuff you can see.

          The key words there are “the stuff you can see”

          The reason why those words are important is because if there’s a coffee table in that has too many things on it, I set them on the floor out of view. This process goes for every part of the room, from bookcases, to mantle pieces, all the way to what you might be able to see outside. The finished result is a room that from any other angle beside exactly where the camera rests looks like haphazard piles of precariously placed junk. From books on the floor, to cushions thrown in the corner, to furniture leaning against walls. It does not look like a well-manicured living room of someone who makes far more money than I’ll ever dream of.

          Now if you move your angle of vision to behind the camera lens, these carefully placed piles of junk magically disappear, hidden from view by a more desirable clean and polished coffee table. The picture is taken and then we move on to another part of the house, once again hiding everything that’s ugly from view. The reason why I think this is strange is because if I were to see that picture for the first time I would see simply a clean countertop, just the right number of pillows on the couch with just the perfect number of books leaning from left to right on the shelves, and my brain just fills in the rest. I assume that the entire house is this well kept, that the owners wisely and very tastefully only own the perfect amount of books for their shelves, and know exactly how to organize cushions in way that looks inviting.

          Now where does this leave me? It’s just thoughts really, I don’t know if it’s a bad thing. I just don’t think pictures should be taken at face value. People just need to respect that fact that photographs are lies, and will never tell the truth. The angle of the camera, the mood created by lighting, the subject matter, and how the photograph is presented are all tools at an artists’ disposal to tell a story, and storytelling a beautiful thing. But at the end of the day, it’s still a story and events have millions of different interpretations. Somebody of a different viewpoint could see the exact same thing, and by using the tools mentioned above tell a different story.

        • Art is not a matter of truth or lie. That kind of categories lies on the ethics part of the philosophy. Art is an aesthetics matter. There is no fake in art or art is fake.
          You should read more before such a mistaken judgment. There is a thing called Art History 101.

    • I think you’re mistakenly using the film-word as a reference… where with enough budget you just can hire talented people… and then take credit for their work as a “director”. There are no DP’s or editors for him to steal a craft from like in film. Everything he does is from his own head.

      And no, money is not what makes his work great. He does. Only the envious/un-talented hacks think that money makes projects. Truth is… only 1% of people are ever actually great at something. Deal with it. I know you’d like to pretend that with enough cash you could do the same, but it’s just not true for 99.99% of people.

      And yea, whoever said that this is fine art is correct. It’s pure photographic art. You want to talk about “hacks”? There’s nothing more “hack-like” then those clowns who think that firing off 12fps on their 1Dx at trees and streams is “photography”. The only people that need to “find moments” are the ones can’t craft anything on their own. It’s the biggest cop-out hack mentality you can possibly have.

      • konstantinos on 12.30.12 @ 2:41PM

        Actually Crewdson does have a dp on set.But its only natural given the scale of his projects.

    • Yeah sorry bro, have to disagree too. I’m a photographer and whenever I’m complimented on a photograph I always feel like I’m cheating. The beautiful scene is there whether I have my camera or not. All I do is take the shot at the right time from the right place. Simples. This dude designs the beauty from scratch so my hat is off to him. That said I think the only real unique thing here is that he somehow gets huge amounts of cash and time to do this and I think there are many other people who could create equally increadible work if they had that kind of time and budget. That’s not to say he isn’t VERY good at it and maybe even the best at what he does. But still… I wanna plaaaaaaaay :(

    • How do you think he gets the big budgets? By convincing investors his ideas and his work are great. Must he be genius to get these budgets for still frames? I guess so…

      I agree he is more a painter than a photographer – he literally paints with light.

  • I think he’s a great artist. His images have the ability to be far more profound and internally driven than what is achievable in a non-constructed way. He has a great sense of aesthetic intuition – the deliberate, cinematic stillness of these images are what make them contemplative and compelling. We know they are constructed as films are, but this allows us to detach ourselves from a photojournalist perspective and explore the emotional side of the image, the conceptual side of it.

  • I am tired of reading comments of people defending their photography by defeating other photography…If you are so talented to see the flaws in everyone’s work. GO MAKE SOMETHING BETTER by any means you wish!!! We will check it out and leave our shitty comments on your blog….

    • xpez2000, this is unfair. Even though I disagree with Alvin, I do believe to comment on someone else work one doesn’t need to be a better artist, this assumption would means that only an “elite” class can talk about arts. I can comment on architecture works even not being an architect myself as long as I do have knowledge.
      Comments like “to say something bad about this or that, first make something better yourself” it’s really a narrow point of view.

      Alvin, I see your point but I believe it’s kinda misleading. Thinking to photography only as catching the moment is only part of what photography can be. What would you say about Man Ray’s work?
      Honestly is not in the preparation of the work or in its instantaneous moments where I would seek for an artistic contribution, but mainly in its honesty.

      Said that, I still don’t know what to think about Crewdson’s work. I’m not concerned about the preparation stuff and the budget issue at all. What really interests me is the result and I’m still not sure about it. If I should follow my gut, I’m not really impressed. I can see quality and technique, but that’s just part of the whole. That doesn’t turn something into art and I’m always amazed to see how people talk so easily about what is art and what is not, now, that’s something really annoying.

      Anyhow, looking at Crewdson’s work I see composition, colors, balance, moments, story, but what’s left after that? I’m not really sure of. Right now my feeling is that all this stuff is more oriented toward an hedonistic world (even the imperfections are perfect) rather than a communicative world. When I look at those pictures I see a stage.
      The idea that Art may just leave the viewer with questions, suggestions, clues rather than being explicit is more and more and excuse for people to just be ‘clever’ and take advantage of what they don’t say rather than what they say.

      Interesting article though, thanks for posting.

  • Markus Haken on 12.30.12 @ 5:38AM

    This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing this, beautiful stuff.

  • Marco Boerner on 12.30.12 @ 9:32AM

    At least something a bit more interesting to read/watch, not that constant RED, Sony blah blah camera’s I just cannot afford talk…

  • In my opinion photography almost always is more detailed work than filmmaking since you only have one frame to tell the story and every photographer who doesn’t do ‘street style’ photography spends a considerable amount of time setting up and tweaking details.
    This guy just goes over the top with it and I’m really surprised to about how the pictures look at the end – he photographs on large format and then it ends up looking very digital HDR – but that’s just imho.

  • His work has been an inspiration to many of us for many years. Fantastic for previsualization and creative discussions of mood and tone…..tragically next to unobtainible in a non still environment….

  • A similar thing was done in Vancouver. They closed off a major street and had extras and lights all just for one photo which became a mural.

    • Space Captain on 01.4.13 @ 7:29PM

      Did you not read the article? The Stan Douglas piece was created as a studio set and not at the actual location. Many from the Vancouver conceptual school have created pieces in this way.

  • thadon calico on 12.30.12 @ 1:44PM

    what kinda bitching filmmakers or so called artists hate on art….the comments r silly…this is amazing art…the outcome is what matters…if the artist put out garbage he wont be able to last long but he is putting out amazing art and artists r bitching about his process….at a time where filmmaking & photography process are undermined by non-art’y consumers & increasing technology, the last ingoranuses should not exist within the art-making community

    • Yea, it’s kind of sad. But I think we’ll see ever more of this kind of mentality and dissonance in the next few years as tools become even more affordable. Many people have always had the notion in their heads that “if I had the money and resources… I could do it too” mentality. Now that the tools and the means to prove yourself are available… many are finding out that they just don’t posses any artistic talent. It’s just not something you can ever buy… no matter how much people wish it were… and their frustration is manifesting itself as dissonance and anger towards those do actually have talent. It’s easier for allot of people to think that the talented somehow “stole” or “bought” their talent, or obtained it through illegitimate means, than to just admit to themselves that they’re just not any good.

  • I remember finding a book with his pictures at a friends house who is a photographer. To me it was like a lightning strike of creativity. The vividness and the emotions are so perfect. Can’t wait to see this documentary.

  • John Anthony on 01.3.13 @ 4:35PM

    Isn’t the whole idea behind photography, film, video, what-have-you, to convey a message, an emotion, or passing moment? The equipment used to capture that event are just tools – no matter how simple or expansive, all the “stuff ” used to capture “the event” are simply tools to bring to life – a vision that came from a persons brain. Mega-dollars or pocket change don’t make any difference if the result isn’t what was intended. And the unintended surprises along the way make it so much better when they occur.

  • Ryan Farner on 01.3.13 @ 11:11PM

    This is no different then setting up a scene for a film. The fact that he spends so much time and effort for one shot is nothing short of amazing. I really liked this post.

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  • What can I say? Just beautiful
    This work has a strong connection with the work of Edward Hopper and also David Lynch.

  • Vivid discussions, probably a sign of an art form shaping culture.

  • Noooo he has gone mainstream !!:(

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