In his opening essay of this volume of photographs, Russell Banks describes the cinematic qualities of Crewdson's work; in particular, how "the pictures are assembled and staged." Though not necessarily immediately obvious in all of the individual pictures, after looking for awhile the viewer does begin to recognize the artificiality of the moments. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. In many cases, particularly when the setting is an exterior, it works very well. The eye searches out the odd detail in the landscape. In the interiors, however, it seems to work less well. In these, the overall effect seems to be oddity and garishness.
More interesting is the theme of isolation that runs through these photos. Even in the shots where more than one person is present, each seems trapped inside their own space. Raised to an even higher degree in some of the wide exteriors, you end up searching out the individual who is nearly swallowed up by the rest of the picture. Perhaps it is that very searching quality required by some of the photographs that makes them the most moving of the group.
When I first received this book, I wasn't sure if I would like it. I was first put off by the unwieldiness of its size--bigger than a normal volume and wider than it is high. As I looked through the photographs and grew to like many of them, I realized the importance of the book's size and shape--to take advantage of the movie aspect ratio Crewdson uses as well as the need for as much space as possible in his wide, detailed exterior shots.
In fact, I went to see a gallery presentation of some of the photographs in this volume. The prints hanging on the wall were large, perhaps six feet or more wide, which I thought did much better justice to Crewdson's work. I found this experience to be of great benefit. When I came home and looked through the book again, I was moved to look even more closely at some of the pictures, seeking out that isolation and detail.
Still, as I said, I think Crewdson's work is uneven. The exteriors, for the most part, greatly outdo the interiors and there is a tendency towards a garishness I don't like in some of his work. However, when he hits the right notes, his landscapes are as beautiful and interesting as anything I've seen.