When I discovered the work of Gregory Crewdson, a few years ago, I was in awe. His work resonated with me, I believe partly because it was the style of work that I found myself doing in my own photography. I want to make photos that look like a snapshot from a movie, that tell a story, that suck the viewer in and make them question what the image is about. The photo above was inspired by Gregory’s work and I was very pleased with the end result. When I show this photo, people often comment that it is very reminiscent of Crewdson’s work which I take as a compliment.

Gregory Crewdson Documentary

So when I saw that there a documentary about Gregory Crewdson and his work (Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters) I immediately found it on Netflix and started watching. However as I watched I became more and more depressed. Here was my photography idol, the man who’s style I want to emulate, and the more I watched the sadder I got. After a while I stopped and asked myself why? Why, is watching him create some of my favorite photos so depressing? It turns out there was not one single reason for this sadness, but many.

Crewdson Shoots Are Huge

Crewdson has a huge budget, many of his shoots are done on a sound stage with a crew of consisting of hundreds of people who build a complete set, find the props, paint the set, bring in snow, dirt, mud, etc. to achieve just the right look to match Gregory’s vision. At one point he mentioned that the one shot was costing $100K.

How can I as a lone photographer ever hope to match that achieve photos that rival his work on my non-existent budget and crew of one?

Crewdson Doesn’t Actually Do Photography

Gregory doesn’t actually click the shutter, he has a director of photography who does that for him, because he does not want to be behind the camera. He doesn’t do post-processing, he has a team who does that for him. He is basically a producer/director. He has the vision, but he directs his team to make that vision into a final image. My first thought when I realized this was that he is not a photographer, and I was disappointed by that. If I’m going to look up to a photographer shouldn’t he be an actual photographer? This bothered me for awhile, but after some reflection I realized he is still a photographer, photography does not have to be about actually clicking the shutter and doing the post-processing, it is more about transferring the vision in your mind onto a photo, the steps in between neither do or don’t make you a photographer.

Turning Depression into Inspiration

After a day of processing my thoughts I turned them around and instead of being depressed I became inspired. The documentary shows Gregory at the peak of his career, he didn’t start off with huge crews and $100K/photo budgets, he started where I am. Working by himself, making photos out of the scenes in front of him. I can do that, I do, do that, and if I keep at it, perhaps one day I will be shooting at his level. There is nothing stopping me.