The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘narrative’

Submerged and Interior: An Interview with Gregory Crewdson

October 24, 2016 | by

Gregory Crewdson, Father and Son, 2013, digital pigment print, 37 1/2" x 50". All Photos © Gregory Crewdson.

Gregory Crewdson is a photographer, but he calls himself a storyteller. He has spoken of his belief that “every artist has one central story to tell,” and that the artist’s work is “to tell and retell that story over and over again,” to deepen and challenge its themes. True to this, Crewdson’s most recent body of work, Cathedral of the Pines, shares the aesthetic that has defined his career—cinematic scenes of domestic life in the Berkshires—but the images have quieted down. While once Crewdson burned down houses or called the police on himself in order to photograph officers, his concerns have shifted lately from the spectacular to the murky and internal.

The hallucinatory images for which Crewdson is best known—sod laid on living room carpets, crop circles and house fires, or tight beams of light emerging from a blank sky—evince the magnetism of catastrophe and the titillation of the strange. Those older works defined Crewdson’s signature style of cinematic production values applied to suburban surrealism and made him one of the most recognizable and influential contemporary photographers. To give a sense of his stature, his gallery is Gagosian, he was the subject of a feature-length documentary, and he directs the graduate photography department at Yale. Read More »

The Story in the Shadows: An Interview with Sjón

September 26, 2016 | by

Sjón. Photo: Gabriel Kuchta.

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta.

Moonstone, Sjón’s latest novel, has been called “the gayest book in Iceland.” It follows the sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn, a queer hustler and cinephile whose life becomes upended by the Spanish flu of 1918 when the pestilence ravages Reykjavik. With the country fearful of any bodily contact, Máni can no longer pick up “gentlemen,” and the cinema houses are shut down. Máni finds solace in a new friendship with Sóla G, a beautiful feminist who rides a motorcycle and dresses all in black. When Máni gets tangled up in a sodomy scandal that threatens to humiliate the homophobic country, Sóla is perhaps the only person who can help him.

As with Sjón’s previous books—The Whispering Muse, The Blue Fox, and From the Mouth of the Whale—the magic of Moonstone lies in language. Máni Steinn doesn’t just love movies but “lives in the movies. When not spooling them into himself through his eyes he is replaying them in his mind.” Máni is illiterate, and as he struggles to read, “the letters of the alphabet disguise themselves before his eyes, glide between lines, switch roles in the middle of a word, and might as well be a red cipher to which he does not have the key.” Sjón’s easy way with words goes back to the Icelandic sagas he devoured as a child. He has internalized the lyrical language of epics, myths, folktales, and religion—“the old great narratives,” as he calls them.

Moonstone has been praised all around, with David Mitchell calling it “Sjón’s simmering masterpiece,” and it has won nearly all of Iceland’s literary prizes, including the country’s most prestigious: the Icelandic Literary Award. Sjón and I met once in New York in 2013, to discuss his earlier works; this month he was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him about Moonstone over e-mail. Read More »

Women at Work: Irina Reyn and Emily Barton in Conversation

August 30, 2016 | by


From left: Irina Reyn, Emily Barton.

Last month, after her reading at the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, New York, Irina Reyn sat down for an onstage conversation with the novelist Emily Barton. Reyn had read from her new novel, The Imperial Wife, in which two women—Catherine the Great in eighteenth-century Russia and Tanya in contemporary New York—negotiate marriage and ambition, on two very different registers. Barton’s third novel, The Book of Esther, was also published this summer. It imagines a nation of Turkic warrior Jews transposed from the Middle Ages to World War II–era Europe and follows one woman’s Joan of Arc–style quest to defend her people. Unsurprisingly, the conversation quickly became a lively discussion about the writing of both novels, gender and work, and the standing of women in the current political climate. —Ed. Read More »

Things People Do

February 3, 2016 | by

Mernet Larsen’s exhibition “Things People Do” is at James Cohan Gallery through February 21. Larsen, seventy-five, works in what she has called “old-fashioned narrative paintings ... statements of longing.” “What I use are these perspectival ploys—diverse perspective, parallel perspective,” she told The Huffington Post last year. “You’re always sort of moving around inside the painting; you can never quite figure out where you’re standing, so you kind of absorb it. Matisse does that too for me too. And a lot of Japanese art, from the twelfth century particularly. They bring you inside and outside the space, you have no particular position. You can't quite get your bearings. And yet, I want you to have a sense of orient, a sense of mass, a sense of depth.”

Mernet Larsen, Alphie, 2015, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 71 1/8" x 39 1/2".

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The Last Word

July 16, 2015 | by

The conundrum of writing about the dead.


Photo: Jennifer Boyer

Recently, I stood in the woods near Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland—the same woods where Jews waited to enter the gas chambers. It was a picnic-worthy spring day. Sunlight filtered through the pine trees. Unable to imagine the horror that had happened there, my thoughts turned instead to a picture I had seen the day before. It was captioned “Sniatyn—tormenting Jews before their execution,” and it shows five naked Jews—four men and a boy—and a handful of Nazis in uniform and civilian clothing holding sticks, apparently gathering before the execution. One of the Jewish men stands looking at the ground with his hands folded in front of him, the Jewish boy is still wearing his hat.

Whenever I see this photograph, I always have the same thought: After all that they have suffered, why should they also suffer the indignity of our gaze? I would not want to be seen in this moment of humiliation. This thought is immediately replaced by another: they are not suffering our gaze. They are dead, they are not suffering anything. And I am looking at them precisely because they were humiliated—without this humiliation, they would have slipped from seen to unseen, as almost all the dead do. They have been chosen for contemporary viewing because this moment tells a larger story that eclipses any squeamishness we have about displaying them in such a scene of degradation. Read More »

It’s-A-Me, Ishmael

March 25, 2015 | by

Can Nintendo tell a proper story?


From The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.

Nintendo and Netflix may be developing a Legend of Zelda TV series, the Wall Street Journal recently reported; or, as Time reported even more recently, they may not. Behind the will-they-or-won’t-they speculation lies a more complicated question: Can they? Do games like these bear expansion into full-fledged stories?

At first glance, a Zelda series seems like a savvy move: HBO’s Game of Thrones has proven that there’s high demand for vaguely medieval fantasies, of which Zelda—a franchise that made its debut in 1986, and that’s grown to include roughly seventeen games—is a prime specimen. And since Nintendo has gradually been losing its share of the video-game market for the past fifteen years, it has every reason to find other ways to wring more value from its globally recognizable intellectual property.

But games don’t translate as easily to TV or film as you might think. In his 2010 apologia Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, perhaps the most thorough defense to date of video games as art, the journalist and essayist Tom Bissell explains why: “The video-game form,” he writes, “is incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative progression.” Unlike books and films, games require challenge, “which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression.” Read More »