Gregory Crewdson is not a motel photographer — at least not in the sense of the subject’s key documentarians, artists like Stephen Shore and Jeff Brouws. And yet every one of his eerily lit, immaculately staged, and thoroughly haunting images references the just-out-of-sight mysteriousness that’s promised by the chain lock on a motor court’s door.
Fans of the photographer’s work will know that he was intrigued and inspired by the psychoanalytic sessions his father conducted in the basement of his childhood home. The palpable sense that something hidden and forbidden underwrites the most familiar of spaces — from our bedrooms to our grocery stores — is at the core of Crewdson’s oeuvre.
Thus the motel. It does on occasion make its appearance among the small-town homes of Pittsfield, Massachusetts that so fascinated him through the publication of Beneath the Roses, but in tender supply. Flipping through his most popular work to date, you’d almost miss the instances in which you’re looking at the room of an inn.
And that’s really the whole point. What Crewdson does more explicitly than any artist before him (with perhaps the exception of Edward Hopper) is to argue that the American home is just like a motel room, a site of profound banality and the most illicit secrets all at once.
When Crewdson confronts the motel head-on, it’s with curtains and doors open. Like the holes in the floor of his living rooms, the hidden stories of everyday-America spill out with troubling intrigue and a touch of sadness. Why do we hide what we hide?
This country. This life. It’s an iceberg floating along the tenuous canals that we’ve carved out. But the underside continually runs against our artificial shores, scraping along the edges of propriety, shedding its lurking depths in dazzling displays across our periphery vision.