I first heard of Crewdson on an episode of "Six Feet Under." A character referred to another character's photography as "like Gregory Crewdson, only not as good."
The character's work as depicted on the show was nothing like Crewdson, whose style is utterly unique. The preface to "Beneath the Roses" describes it as cinematic, both in form and execution; the shots take days to set up, requiring large crews and actors to achieve the chosen effect. The collection concludes with production stills and a long list of "credits," not unlike those at the end of a movie.
Someone unfamiliar with Crewdson's chosen medium, coming across these pictures for the first time, might very well assume they are paintings and not photographs at all. The color palette falls into that uncanny valley of being close to reality, but just off enough to create disquiet. There is no blurring of background or foreground - like a painting, everything is in sharp focus. One of Crewdson's influences is Edward Hopper, and it shows in the impressionistic, balanced, and generally large-scale scenes - there are no closeups. But Hopper's sensibility, compared to Crewdson, seems tame, somehow safer.
Crewdson's photographs are full of details, evoking a sense of sadness, of disappointment, of the everyday pain that people cause those closest to them. His subjects seem resigned to desperation, yet forever on the verge of an escape they will never accomplish. Car doors are often open, but not to welcome someone arriving; more a sign that someone has just left, running off without closing it. That is, going from one phase of their life to another suddenly, without "closing the door" - a sudden, unplanned-for flight that surely must end with their return. For interior shots, mirrors are often present, with other rooms - usually a restroom, often with toilet - seen through half-opened doorways. Sometimes, the scene is of strange destruction that the human figures seem oblivious to, as if they are used to it.
All of this is presented with the greatest restraint and maturity. Even one scene in which a man kneels before another man in a dark forest, almost as if he is a prisoner, while other figures wander around with flashlights, does not suggest that violence (at least physical violence) is involved. Another, where a young boy confronts a naked woman standing in the doorway of her trailer, seems more of a chance meeting than anything else. In this collection, Crewdson brings the viewer into a world both strange and familiar, like memories of childhood - significant moments that had the greatest impact on us, even as we are barely able to recall them.