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Gregory Crewdson

Untitled (oasis), 2004

Photograph | C-Print
143 x 221.7 cm

One of the series Beneath the Roses (2003-05), this image, as Stephan Berg has written about the whole of Gregory Crewdson’s career, aims to show the dark side of the American dream. Beneath the roses is the earth, the roots … a whole underground world we know nothing about for sure, but we do know that it exists even though we do not want or are unable to see it. Beneath the roses, beneath the artificial beauty of the garden, there is an underworld which is not beautiful, which needs manure for the appearance to rise to the surface. And so the dark side of the American dream is the other side of the same coin: advanced capitalism. As with the roses, the American dream needs the nightmare of its reality, the opulence of the triumph of the market is based on the dispossession of a large majority, the victory of the few needs the failure of many others.

Like all Crewdson’s work, this photograph is a construction, a carefully staged setting, where all the details have been worked to an almost unhealthy degree. His extremely complex manner of preparation is almost identical to a film shoot, where sets are constructed, details are altered, reality is falsified to produce another reality which is more believable than reality itself. As Stephan Berg has pointed out, “perfection, so important for Crewdson, is closely connected with control. The exact planning and construction of each detail of the image means that the camera only picks up what the photographer wants us to see”. Perfection and control are the two sides of a coin which also contains a reflection on the medium itself and how it has been influenced by others, especially film but also painting. The perfection of a model – capitalist democracy – which also needs harsh control and images constructed down to the last detail, indispensable for the spread-continuation of the American dream and mass consumption.

It is therefore vital to look at what we see: a street in an American town at dusk, it has rained not long ago since there are puddles on the ground, the sky is overcast, a taxi has just driven along this deserted street which a solitary person is crossing. He walks wearily, as if he were weighed down by a long life. This protagonist of the scene is almost certainly heading for a liquor store called “Oasis”. The neon sign certainly stamps a different colour on the bluish grey of the surroundings. The red it gives off illuminates and colours the house next door. An attractive red, a dangerous red: an oasis amidst the insipidity, the artificial paradises as sole recourse against the depressive paradise of the American dream. Meanwhile, where he is coming from, the other side of the street, we see the grind of running a business, ways of saving money, special offers, long working days. It may even be that this person is a descendent of the dispossessed of the ancestral land and that the paradise brought by the colonialists may be no more than that: escaping from it at all costs.

Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes


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