The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

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 Book of Life

October 10, 2016 | by

Aunt Rose, right, et al., 1942.

In her book Playing Dead, Elizabeth Greenwood recounts how she faked her own death, staging a car crash in the Philippines. My great-aunt Rose did something of that nature—if, admittedly, in the less dramatic mode of an aged Jewish lady with used tissues tucked into her sleeve and sagging, off-color support hose.

Rose’s ride to a wedding in Newark from Paterson showed up as planned, and as confirmed by her the week before. Somebody’s nephew. Rang, rang the bell. —No answer. —Upturned an ashcan in the alley, climbed and, clutching at the window ledge, peered in. 

Aunt Rose was gone. Read More »

Change We’ll All Believe In

September 27, 2016 | by

Photo: Sara Kelly.

There’s a brand of New Orleans evening that begins on a whim, dissolves into multiheaded spectacle, and explodes into something else entirely. A few nights ago I was talking politics outside of C___, this chalky bar tucked between the French Quarter’s nether regions, and the question came up, there as in everywhere else in the city: Saints game or debate? Their run times conflicted.

A buddy of mine said of course he would watch the debate. What a question, he said, what a farce. He added something else about the future of Everything.

Another friend expressed ambivalence. Six beers sat on the table between us, his words rolling across their rims. Whenever we knocked the legs the bottles tinkled along in agreement. 

I was about to embarrass myself when the woman smoking quietly behind us—quite literally in the shadows—said that of course she was watching the Saints game. It wasn’t even a question. And before we could ask her why, she gave us a story.

Her name was L. She used to tend bar at C___.

She said: Read More »

Socially Displaced

September 6, 2016 | by

Photo: Gene93k.

I had been out of college for a couple years when a friend got me a gig studying the “socially displaced.” This wasn’t as lofty as it sounds; what I really did was spend a couple months going around asking bums about their problems. The arrangement was fairly straightforward: they’d give me their stories and I’d give them a dollar. So I spent a few days roaming Castries—the capital of Saint Lucia—with a cheap recorder and a heavy bag of coins, tracking the street people and hoping a few would talk to me.

I’ve never been great at interviews, mainly because I don’t like bothering people, including vagrants. I felt like I was invading their private space, which I sort of was. But surprisingly some of them were willing to tell me their life stories even without the promise of money. They had nothing better to do—and clearly neither did I. Read More »

Boon Companion

August 5, 2016 | by

Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname is one of history’s greatest travelogues.

Evliya Çelebi painting (c) Sermin Ciddi

Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

According to his own recollection, Evliya Çelebi, the seventeenth-century Turkish writer and traveler, experienced a life-changing epiphany on the night of his twentieth birthday. He was visited in a dream by the Prophet Muhammad, dressed nattily in a yellow woollen shawl and yellow boots, a toothpick stuck into his twelve-band turban. Muhammad announced that Allah had a special plan, one that required Evliya to abandon his prospects at the imperial court, become “a world traveler,” and “compose a marvelous work” based on his adventures.

As religious missions go, it was a pretty sweet deal—and for Evliya it came at the perfect moment. His feet itched to travel and his fingers to write, but he could never find a way of telling his parents that the life they had proudly mapped out for him—a stellar career, a virtuous wife, and a brood of smiling children—played no part in his vision of a meaningful existence. Muhammad’s intervention, whether an act of providence or not, spurred three decades of globetrotting indulgence. Evliya took in Anatolia, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Corinth, Sudan, and swathes of Europe from Crimea to—supposedly—the Low Countries. His path crossed Buddhists and crusading warriors, the Bedouin and Venetian sailors, ambassadors, monks, sorcerers, and snake charmers. Along the way he wrote the Seyahatname (“Book of Travels”), a magnificent ten-volume sprawl of fantasy, biography, and reportage that is utterly unique in the canon of travel literature, and which confirms Evliya as one of the great storytellers of the seventeenth century. Read More »

Dearer to the Vultures

June 2, 2016 | by

How the perspective of war stories has shifted—from gods to guns.

From the cover of the American edition of Anatomy of a Soldier.

My memories of war are fractured: faces disappear like smoke while literal plumes of smoke, their specific shapes and forms, linger on vividly for years. I remember the mesh netting, concrete, and dust smell of tower guard, but the events of entire months are completely gone. I remember the sound of a kid’s voice, but not anything he actually said. I guess that’s what Tim O’Brien meant when he wrote about Vietnam, “What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning or end.”

Memories of people, too complex to carry through the years, fall apart. It’s easier to find purchase on memories of objects. The weapon I was assigned on my first deployment to Iraq was an M249 SAW, or what we would colloquially and inaccurately refer to as the “Squad Assault Weapon.” I remember the way it felt to disassemble—the slight give of the heat-shield assembly, its tiny metal pincers clinging to the barrel. I remember the sound of the feed tray snapping shut on a belt of ammunition. And I remember the tiny rust deposits on the legs of my weapon’s bipod, which would never go away, no matter how hard I scrubbed with CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, and Protectant oil). I remember my SAW’s voice and the things it said. Read More »