Week 2 project development / contextual research – 02.02.20

Week 2 project development / contextual research – Looking at Gregory Crewdson 02.02.2020

Tableaux as defined by Tate 

“Tableau is used to describe a painting or photograph in which characters are arranged for picturesque or dramatic effect and appear absorbed and completely unaware of the existence of the viewer”  (Tate.org)

or Tableau vivant as explained in wikipedia (which I know we aren’t meant to do but it really was the best explanation and most concise definition on the internet) is defined as – ‘A tableau vivant (often shortened to tableau, plural: tableaux vivants), French for ‘living picture’, is a static scene containing one or more actors or models. They are stationary and silent, usually in costume, carefully posed, with props and/or scenery, and may be theatrically lit.’ (Wikipedia)

The word was originally used as a term to describe paintings of the same nature, where you seemed to be witnessing a private scene where the people within the painting, had no knowledge whatsoever of a spectator being present. The term then ran over into photography, according to Tate with photographers like Jeff Wall in the 1970′s.

For my project this module I am looking at incorporating tableau work into my research project, depicting domestic scenes of and from the viewpoint of a home educator. My aim is for these images to be depictions of the realities of home education, but in a cinematic and aesthetic stimulating way, enabling me to potentially bring in metaphors, making the images more about a ‘mental level’ (Shore, 2007) depiction, and less of a direct obvious portrayal .

I aim to depict scenes of things related to our alternative education, that have happened to us in our lives, but to construct them, to remove all the unnecessary ‘fluff’, whilst allowing me to place in any additions I think add to the narrative and effectiveness of the story. Having never worked in tableaux of any kind I am going to be doing a lot of trial and error, and , unlike previous modules, I do not expect to have a large portfolio at the end of this module. It is, instead, entirely about my growth as a photographer, trying something new, and giving me the motivation, room and space to research new photographers and artists that I haven’t had the time or reason to  in the past.

The first artist that I am going to look at is the photographer Gregory Crewdson . I went along to Penryn library and took out all the books of Crewdson’s they had, and have started off by pulling together some of his images that I felt most drawn too from these books.  The first Book I looked at was Crewdsons’ 1999 ‘Dream of life’ , this book was quite a abrupt burst in to the world of tableau, with the forward talking of drugs, murders, rapes, and ‘familial suffering’ (Steinke: 1999 , pg 13) and hardships, hardly the optimistic viewpoint I am wanting to come from in my images, but I kept going with it, for the sake of the images !

I did appreciate this quote from Steinke though “It’s the formula all essential art follows : finding visual equivalents for inchoate feelings” (Steinke, 1999. pg 13) I find this idea of these inchoate feelings being not only expressed but developed through art intriguing . This is after all the very nature of my own practice in this module. Trying  to work through feelings, consciously or subconsciously , and using art for that in some way . Inchoate, could also relate to the development of an educational philosophy. When we first started on the path of home education, it was just the seed of an idea, the growth and formulating of those ideas came later, and were in turn formed into the educational philosophy of allowing our children to develop and grow at their own pace, in their own time, on their own path, with nurturing and facilitation along the way. It’s pretty sad that the definition of inchoate also relates to an as yet unperformed criminal act. As home educators we are always at the will of someone who thinks they know better what the law is, or how what we are doing can’t possibly be legal. I say shame, as otherwise it would of made the perfect part of a title for the body work, alas I do not wish to have criminal activity linked to the body of work in any way !

I also felt Crewdsons’ reply to a question from an interview in the book, on what ‘ugly’ is to him, and how it relates to his photographs, related to my work. During the first module, I received a fair amount of feedback that my work was over aestheticising, nostalgic, and therefor not dealing with reality as such. In the second module it was remarked by one tutor that I need to include the tears, the tantrums, the mess, but I had a big issue with that , these things are part of living as a family, they are not a part of education, and ultimately that is what I am trying to convey – a range of educational philosophies. The washing up, and tantrums have nothing to do with education, they are just part and parcel of being a family, my aim is to portray one, and not necessarily the other. In my final feedback it was remarked I should try to experiment more with finding photographs I am pleased with, that were taken in not such aesthetically pleasing lighting situations (I only used available light), my answer to that would be , I did. I took many many photographs in less desirable lighting set ups, but the images that spoke to me the most, the images that conveyed the narrative I wanted too, in a way I wanted too, were the ones with beautiful lighting, and that in turn is why I chose those photographs. Do the experimentations, yes, learn from the tutors recommendations (as I did moving from black and white to colour after feedback to do so) most certainly yes, but I cannot , and most importantly, do not wish to change, what has been a staple of my practice for years in my birth photography, manipulating the available light to the best of my advantage, to make the most aesthetically pleasing image I can. Crewdsons quote paralleled my own thoughts on this …

“Whilst I am thinking about that , I will say that I always set out to make the most technically, formally, aesthetically beautiful photograph I can.”

(Crewdson. 1999 ; pg 22) 

untitled.beneath the roses. 2005

Image 1 untitled.beneath the roses. 2005 (ABC.NET)


“I can answer your question about what is horrible to me. Ultimately, probably what scares me most is reality. When it’s a representation, when it is separate from the world, it more effortlessly becomes poetic or beautiful.”

(Crewdson . 1999  pg 22/23) 

“Maybe these grids (repeated vegetable, mineral, or botanical units) which you establish give us a sense of stability and the confidence to enter into the scene a little deeper. All the plentitude that you offer and the richness of the colour are inviting. We trust you so we strive deeper into the image, and thats where you get us into trouble.” ( Morrow (Crewdson). 1999. pg 25)  

I am drawn to this idea of creating recurring themes or grids in the images I produce to give a sense of reliability ad stability. It is an important prospect to think over more I think.

“Essentially I am interested in photographic beauty, in narrative, the photograph conveying a kind of mystery, a strangeness and a recognisability. I don’t care how I get there. That is inconsequential . (Crewdson . 1999. pg 29)


© Gregory crews Untitled beneath the roses 2, 2007.

Image 2 © Gregory crewdson Untitled beneath the roses 2, 2007.


Piece on Crewdsons’ work at International photography magazine. Photobiography Gregory Crewdson . 21.07.20 . http://internationalphotomag.com/photobiography-gregory-crewdson/


  1. Diorama - noun -a model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures, either in miniature or as a large-scale museum exhibit. 
  2. Inchoate adjective - just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary.
  3. Tableau noun – a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history; a tableau vivant.
  4. Tableau vivant – French for ‘living picture’, is a static scene containing one or more actors or models. They are stationary and silent, usually in costume, carefully posed, with props and/or scenery, and may be theatrically lit.


NOTE TO SELF – RESEARCH  Marcel Duchamp Étant donnés as inspiration for crewdsons’ NATURAL WONDER’ …… AND THEN FURTHER LINK TO….. Tim walkers wonderful things at the V&A in 2019



Tate Terms. Tate.org . Tableau. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/t/tableau (Accessed 20.02.20)

Wikipedia . Tableau vivant. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tableau_vivant (Accessed 20.02.20)


Shore, Stephen . 2007. The nature of photographs. London. Phaidon. 

Crewdson, Gregory. 1999. Dream of life. Spain. Ediciones Universidad Salamanca. 


Image 1 : Untitled from Beneath the Roses, 2005 . 57” x 88”, 144.8cm x 223.5cm – © Gregory Crewdson Sourced from ABC. Crewdson untitled. 03.01.2012. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/artworks/crewdson—untitled—sunday-roast-28gregory-crewdson29-5brn/3757018 (Accessed 20.02.20)

Image 2 © Gregory crewdson Untitled beneath the roses 2, 2007. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/artworks/crewdson—untitled—birth-28gregory-crewdson29-5brn-artwor/3756990 (Accessed 20.02.20)


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