Gregory Crewdson's Twilight Reality Trigger by Ray Ogar

>>> COPYRIGHT 2004

image by Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (plate 7) from Twilight series

I am lost. I am mesmerized. I am trying to discover how light constructs reality, because light is a fabric we wear. You peer in my direction, gaze my skin, my clothes, my façade and all you really get in return is the reflection of light. So I exist not as a physical form but as a cascade of photons on your retina, triggering your eyes’ cones and rods. Ultimately I am merely a chemical response coded in your brain that you have come to recognize when you see the same, similar, near pattern elsewhere. It is an uncanny feeling.

In part, I read the photographs of Gregory Crewdson as complex light façades. Rather he has encapsulated my analysis of light in many of his images and in particular, I would like to reference Untitled (Plate 7), from his Twilight series.

Most literally, Plate 7 is the image of a man on his knees cutting holes in the floor of his house. As each hole is cut, a light from below floods the room. It would be one thing if the man were violently tearing apart the room to discover the source of light. However, this is not the case. He is methodically, quietly, somberly finding the light. His face reveals a mesmerized intensity. He is caught. He is enraptured.

The room itself tells more of the story. Crewdson it seems has very meticulously laid out events in the scene by the careful placement of objects. It is apparent that the man was in the middle of eating. Maybe watching television. So I question, when day turned to night, did something compel him to begin his search? How did he know to cut into the floor? Was there a small sliver of light pushing into the room from below? In this case, I am projecting a narrative onto the scene.

So, look at the image further. Crewdson has deliberately photographed the area so that I see more than one room and a closet left open. Lights are left on. Granted I could argue that the man regularly leaves on his lights. But his peculiar circumstance, the crispness of his work clothes and the ordered array of objects on the closet shelf suggest someone who is at least attentive to certain details.

I read the photo more closely. I see food in one room, boxes of some Chinese dish opened and then another food box sitting on a nearer table as well as several glasses filled with liquid. Was there at one point more than one person in the room? Is there someone in the kitchen and off to the side I am not seeing? My read is that he lives alone, especially with the single hat on the rack near the couch. Either way though this man is possessed. He is not so much possessed by a spirit or some non-corporeal form as perhaps he has developed awareness to his new surroundings.

In some respects, I feel the man in Plate 7 has awoken at the moment of twilight. Twilight was the trigger—it was the catalyst. Twilight then is perhaps a fissure that allows the unreal to slip into reality. That would be an initial read. A deeper read might suggest the opposite. Crewdson photographs the façade. He is letting us see the construction of reality we live with everyday. Some people (those that seem possessed and wander in Crewdson’s images) actually detect more. They almost know they are on a set and their surroundings are fabricated. In Crewdson’s case, the lights underneath the floorboards are that which glamorize reality (glamour whose original meaning was enchantment, spell casting, or bewitching charm; this word derived from the word grammar (gramarye) which meant a primary structure or system to support a larger language). Here the grammar is light and the glamour is what we perceive as reality (that which is constructed on top of the light, what the light makes us believe is real). In other words, for me, in Crewdson’s image, pure light, the mesmerizing light is the real. It is the fundamental component of reality. The man in Plate 7 has discovered this sub structure and has begun to chip away at the construction. Twilight then perhaps catalyzed this moment for the man in Plate 7 and allowed him to see the real. I would argue that twilight is indistinguishable from dawn. It is a between state stuck in time. Perhaps the man in Plate 7 became attached to twilight and therefore tried to pursue it when it fled under night. (Twilight and dawn are interstices, they are moments of ambiguity and interchangeability—activities or images during twilight might include people putting on or taking off pajamas, people going to or coming from work, children leaving for school, coming from school.)

So, the man in Plate 7 has been caught; maybe he has slipped into a revelation. I initially perceived him as a zombie, as someone lost, animal-like or lifeless, or a ghost, a shell. But perhaps he has seen the real. The first time I saw Plate 7 I thought of the scene in the movie Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, when the two hit men (Travolta and Jackson) gaze into a briefcase they were told to deliver to another person. We never see what is in the briefcase except a yellowish light emanating from within. The briefcase’s contents are never described. It is, as Alfred Hitchcock would call, a McGuffin—an unidentified object utilized in the narrative to propel the playing out of a deeper human story. Perhaps Crewdson is doing this. He is using light here as a McGuffin to get us to talk about the drama of life and its realness.

The light in Plate 7 acts like a window in the night or a television screen. Is the man a voyeur of the real? When he looks at the light is he more real himself? Is the man, in his mesmerized state, more true to reality’s structure than when the rest of us are merely engaged with a belief of what is real?