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Photography Quotes: Gregory Crewdson

I read a lot of books about photography and I watch just about every documentary I can find about photography. These books and documentaries are rarely about the technical aspects of photography but more about the philosophical, emotional, and intangible facets of the art form. I really enjoy those lesser-discussed aspects of it. In the course of my studies, I often come across great photography quotes that I note down for my own encouragement and guidance. And rather than keep these gems all to myself, I thought I'd start sharing these photography quotes with my blog readers and give my 2 cents behind it - why I like the quote, how it can help improve your photography, etc. So here is the first in a new series of blog articles simply titled "Photography Quotes." Enjoy!

Photography Quotes: Gregory Crewdson
Photo by Gregory Crewdson

There is a phenomenal documentary called Brief Encounters that follows visionary photographer Gregory Crewdson as he creates photos in his "Beneath the Roses" series (here's the book of images). This photo series is truly groundbreaking with budgets and production values that rival many Hollywood movies. Just head on over to Google and search "gregory crewdson beneath the roses" to see what I mean. His photos are much more than pretty shots of nature. They tell a story better than any photos I've ever seen, they incite a deep emotional response, and they hold the viewer's interest like a tractor beam. The documentary Brief Encounters shows how some of these photos were made. It's a great film for the average person and an even better one for photographers. To see the work that goes into his photos is truly humbling. It was available on Netflix streaming last I checked, so go check it out!

In the documentary, Mr. Crewdson casually crafted one of the best photography quotes I've ever heard. It goes as follows:

"The 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. When things go wrong in the right way, it adds a certain unexpected mystery to the picture and transforms your original expectation of things. But often things go wrong in the wrong way, and then you just have to understand that there are going to be pictures that you make that just don't work in the end. The risks exist on many different levels, but you have to put all that aside because if you're not going to make the picture, no one else will."

- Gregory Crewdson, Brief Encounters

It seems everyone wants to eliminate failure in their photography. It's all about getting better, getting more control, getting the perfect picture every time. But as Gregory Crewdson pointed out here, something always necessarily goes wrong. Sometimes it goes wrong in the right way, but many times it goes wrong in the wrong way. If you're anything like me, you may drive yourself nuts trying to prevent anything from going wrong, because if the photo doesn't turn out exactly as you hoped, it can be really discouraging.

This is one of my favorite photography quotes because when I look at the work of a photographer like Gregory Crewdson, it's easy for me to think, "Oh well that guy is on a completely different level than me. He's got it figured out. He knows how to make important images." And then I find myself not taking certain photos I want to take because I don't think I can execute them correctly or I don't think anyone else will like the shot or I don't think my artistic vision is good enough - there are a thousand risks a photographer must take when creating a photo and putting it out for the world to see, the biggest risk being the risk of criticism and invalidation. But what I love about Gregory Crewdson's quote is that it reminds me to put those risks aside and just make the photo anyway. Things may go wrong and the picture won't work. Then again, things may go "wrong" and the picture turns out better than I ever hoped. But whatever the case, I can't let an aversion to risk stop the creative process. Because if I don't make the photo, no one else will.