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Deep Dive #3: Oak Street

Parallel pictures made behind the taxi depot, 12 years apart.
GREGORY CREWDSON, Untitled, 2003-2008, Digital pigment print, image size: 57 x 88 in. © Gregory Crewdson
GREGORY CREWDSON, The Cabulance, 2018-2019, Digital pigment print, image size: 50 x 88.9 in. © Gregory Crewdson

IN 2006, I MADE A PICTURE (Untitled, 2003-2008,) on Oak Street, which dead ends at the back side of the taxi depot. Just where a house and its yard intersect with a dirt parking lot, there is a beautiful tree — an oak, as the street name would indicate, and from the first time I scouted there, it struck me as looking like a version of the tree of life. I knew I wanted it to be at the center of a picture. The narrative elements revealed themselves from there: Life, fertility, age, and the passing of time. I envisioned a nude female figure, pregnant, in the midground, on one side of the tree, standing in front of a shed, its door open, and a light on inside. The shed offers a sense of shelter, but there is a vulnerability, too, because she it outside in her yard. On the other side of the tree, more in the distance, I wanted there to be two young figures hanging out on a porch in the summer air, so there would be a tension between the lone figure and the other two. They are in their own spaces, realities, and places in life, completely isolated and disconnected from one another. The lone female figure is in a transitional moment, expecting a baby. The others are carefree, in slight romantic postures leaning toward one another, and immersed in that expansive timeframe of youth, when everything feels infinite and possible. The tree in a sense gracefully ties together the whole picture. It has been there probably before any of them were born, and will perhaps remain after.

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Some 12 years later, I went back to the same location, and by no intentional design, made a picture that touches on the exact same themes. In the later picture, (The Cabulance, 2018-2019,) the lone figure is an older woman, poised on her porch with a walker. She’s also in a transitional time of life, and again there is a tension between her and the two younger figures across the street. But the dynamics are a bit different. Here, the woman is more firmly grounded in reality, and less of a metaphorical presence. She is at the front of the house, on the porch, in plain view from the neighborhood. She is separated and removed, but gazing directly at the two younger figures, who have a more rootless quality, as they are not positioned outside a home, but a VW Bus. There’s more of a sense of a journey; perhaps the teenagers are stopping here on their way to somewhere else. The woman seems to be waiting for the Cabulance, or at least that’s a possibility. Perhaps she is on her way somewhere else, too.

View from the set of The Cabulance toward camera, 2018. Photo by Daniel Karp for Crewdson Studio. © Crewdson Studio

I was not aware of the thematic parallels I was making at the time. I’m always fully invested in whatever one photograph I’m working on, not thinking of any larger arc or evolution. But now in retrospect, I am intrigued with all the cross connections that occurred when making these two pictures. Both pictures deal with mortality, fertility, and life cycle. I credit that to the fact that this little area behind the depot is so rich, where nature, neighborhood, industry, and history all wrap around the edges of one dirt lot.

There are many tree names in the streets around the depot: Oak, Cherry, Willow, Maple; and there is a feeling that nature is pervasive and persistent despite the fact that industry and neighborhoods were built over the trees the streets were once named for. In the later picture, I shifted the camera’s gaze a bit more toward an adjacent brick building, a former coat factory, that is now attached to the taxi depot. The building was just out of frame in the 2006 picture, but it appears in The Cabulance, as well as The Warehouse, and in the corner of frame tucked behind a tree in The Taxi Depot.

On the set of The Cabulance 2018. Photo by Tobias Fried for Crewdson Studio. © Crewdson Studio

There is also the strange coincidence that the figure in the earlier picture is Juliane, who unbeknownst to either of us at the time, would become my partner by the time I made the second picture. In fact, the child she was pregnant with appears in The Taxi Depot beside my own son, shot just on the other side of the taxi depot building. (See Deep Dive #2.)

Gregory and Juliane on the set of Untitled [Oak Street] 2006. Photo by Crewdson Studio. © Crewdson Studio

Key to below:

  1. Central lone figure (hero)

  2. Hero house

  3. Prop cars

  4. Supporting figures

  5. (through 7.) indicate the first, second, and third adjacent homes on Oak St.

GREGORY CREWDSON, Untitled, 2003-2008, with comparison key by Christian Badach for Crewdson Studio. © Crewdson Studio
GREGORY CREWDSON, The Cabulance, 2018-2019, with comparison key by Christian Badach for Crewdson Studio. © Crewdson Studio

Editorial note: The drone video at the top of this piece was shot by Brandon Taylor, key grip, on the set of The Cabulance. Brandon has been on the Crewdson production team since 2006. This piece was written by Juliane based on conversations and interviews she did with the artist.


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