The Process Of Making Pictures Is Connected To Failure

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“The whole process of making pictures is so deeply connected to failure. You have an expectation you have a dream of what your picture is going to be and then something always necessarily goes wrong.”

Gregory Crewdson, Brief Encounters
(Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime)

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’d like to amend that statement and use the word disappointment rather than failure. There really is no failure, for each “attempt” brings you closer to an outcome, rather than expected result. Even then, it’s the expectation that leads to disappointment. If you can “intend” an outcome and have no attachment to the final result, then you are left open to receive the serendipity that comes with every circumstance.

    • Donnor Party

      One thing about film I always liked was that the level of expectation levels out because of teh lag between taking an image and seeing a contact sheet. With digital you can feel that disapointment immediatly.

  2. I would contend that something doesn’t have to go awry with every attempt. There are often failures, disappointments, and happy accidents associated with art, but to say that they must always happen negates the investment of those who demonstrate exceptional technical proficiency, those who have an incredible capacity for seeing, and those who are just so anal that everything that they can control goes according to their plan. There is a validity in the accidents and there is a validity in the lack of.

  3. A. Noninoni

    I swear photographers have a victim mentality. We see everything as dark. The world is out to get us. Fate is always waiting to squash us like a bug. With photography — as with any other pursuit — you learn from mistakes. You get good by fucking up over and over again. And just when you think you’ve finally got it right, you’ll find some new way to fuck up. Welcome to life. Sorry for the rant, but portraying photography as some grim, downtrodden pursuit gets tired. So stuff goes wrong. So what? Shit happens. Do it over. Seriously, if you don’t like taking pictures you’re probably in the wrong line of work.

  4. It’s a little late to be jumping on that bandwagon without adding much to it. Whole books on the topic have been out for awhile now, and bloggers continue to write about it every day in all its minute nuances. Glad you got the memo, Mr. Crewdson, but please realize we already know all that.

  5. Victor John Penner

    Tim,

    Wow. You are going to dismiss a personal statement from one of the leading photo based artists in the world? His productions are so elaborate AND lengthy that the probability (and seriousness) of failure is more than “oh, delete that one, take another”. It is months of work for a few images.

    “got the memo”, please show some respect.

    • I do respect him and his work. But I also think he–or anyone–needs to show a little respect toward his audience if he’s going to trot out the failure is part of the process philosophy. Someone at his level needs to add something new and insightful to the discussion, and acknowledge that others have been doing the same. Everyone from CEOs to bloggers these days talks about the virtues and necessity of trying and failing. By now, to not position yourself within that greater discussion of how success in life in general is “deeply connected to failure” is a little disingenuous and pandering.

      It doesn’t mean I like his photography any less, though.

  6. Gregory Crewdson, like many great artists, is hard on himself, and dramatic at that.

    Everybody who has seen his work knows that failure is not the term.

    What he probably wanted to say in these high contrast term is that you can’t plan a shoot from start to finish and get at the end what you planned at the beginning. Only derivative work can be planned that way.

    You plan something, and then comes the moment where you know that it can’t be done the way you thought it could. And you do it differently. Often it is better than what you had in mind first.

    Could you imagine Eggleston planning his shoots?

    In Gregory Crewdson’s shoot there’s a lot of planning, of course. Tons of equipment. Literally. And then comes the moment where things look different than before, at the planning stage (at least that’s how I interpret the term “failure” here). It doesn’t have to be a negative incident. It can be a sudden discovery, also called inspiration.

    Failure to fulfill one plan often leads to something better.

    • Donnar Party

      I agree with everything you write with the exception of Crewdson being a great artist, unless you mean he is a great bullshit artist. He is no Jeff Wall, no Alec Soth, no Eggleston, no Sally Mann, no Sarah Moon, the list goes on.

      • His lighting and his frozen tableaux are very good, and the three-dimensionality of his work is impressive. I particularly like his wide shots that show a large part of a village in a panoramic view.

        No artist can claim that everybody loves his work. On the contrary, any great artist has his opposing party built in – e.g. the Donnar Party. You are basically strengthening his position instead of undermining it by posting that emotional response.

        One would have to be a very flat, shallow commercial shooter who always hangs his flag so it’s blowing in the wind of current trends in order to avoid opposition. But that’s also a recipe for boring work and personal and artistic frustration.

        PS: Were you trying to call yourself the Donner Party, but made a typo when signing up? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donner_Party The seven survivors ate the flesh of their dead comrades. I hope you don’t intend to eat the flesh of Gregory Crewdson while he’s still alive. I think this would be illegal, typo or no typo.

        • Donnor Party

          From a technical perspective I like his stuff. And I really liked a series of fireflies he shot back in 2000, small, black and white. It was great, if only because it was so honest.

          My emotional response is not necessarily aimed at Crewdson. In truth, he is OK. My criticism is that the thinking behind his work, or most of what he is known for, is shallow, its a Cheever novel but 40 years too late. Its as deep as a Franzen novel, or anything by Rick Moody. Its Dr. Phil, pop Freudian dream analysis. I could overlook this and just say I’m not a fan, leave it at that. But, what raises my ire is the art world bullshit surrounding and promoting him. The fact that the dealers, gallerists and Mass MoCA latched onto this shallow thinking is telling. And irksome.

          I don’t think his work really creates opposition where it counts, i.e. the thinking behind the work and its impact. Most of the “opposition” to his work comes from photographers (real or imaged) who loath the fact that he seldom handles a camera and acts as a director, or a general opposition to staged photography. Crewdson didn’t invent staged photography and he isn’t the first artist to “direct” production, so its not as if he is doing anything new to “break the waves”.

          I have no issue with his “directing” or with staged photography. I like Grooms, Koons, and Warhol, who all have/had other people make their stuff. I like Wall and Cindy Sherman and really like Phillip Lorca DiCorsia’s staged work. I just think conceptually Crewdson’s staged work is weak, and the hype it gets is out of all proportion to its merit.

          And yes, I am dislexic and have never been a good speller. It should be Donner Party but has nothing (much) to do with starving and eating people.

  7. Its funny but over the last couple of years I went down all these small visual investigations ( I call them tributaries) that at the time I perceived were dead ends.. (failures to me) But one day I sat down and realized they were all about another singular idea that I had been working on the entire time but did not see it. Strange how ideas work their way to the surface some taking a couple of years in my case.

  8. I don’t agree with Crewdson.

    He calls “failure” the thing that makes photography special. If you want to control everything in the frame and have no surprises you should be a painter.

    A photo is made unique also by the details you didn’t notice when you were taking it, the unpredictable little events are not things “went wrong”.
    Photography is about confronting with reality , if you see reality contaminating your visions as a failure you are probably fighting a battle thats impossible to win.