As a fashion designer you want to make sure that your vision is captured well when shooting your collection. What is the story behind your collection? And how do you tell a whole story in just one single frame? The work of photographer Gregory Crewdson is a great example of images with a complex narrative.

Crewdson portrays suburban life in a unique, surreal and haunting way. The documentary ‘Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters’ follows Crewdson for over a decade. The film reveals the process in which Crewdson works and gives some rare insights into the art of storytelling.

These four insights can be useful when you are producing the photoshoot for your collection:

Go back to the roots of your story

It all begins with the story. You have to ask yourself, what do I want to tell? Crewdson says that every artist has one central story to tell: ‘the struggle is to tell and re-tell that story over and over again in visual form and try to challenge that story. But at the core that story remains the same. It’s like the defining story of who you are’. The story of Crewdson is grounded in his youth. His father was a psycho-analist and had an office in the basement. He didn’t know what was happening there, but he knew it was a secret. It was a mystery. ‘I have a memory of trying to listen to the sessions as I put my ear to the floorboard. As I look back at it now it’s a metaphor for what I do as a photographer. I project a fantasy of something that is forbidden, a secret or beneath the surface’ says Crewdson.

What makes his images also intriguing is that he depicts moments before and after something is happened instead of the happening itself. As a viewer you don’t know what happened only that something has happened. It makes you wander: what’s going on beneath the surface, what is going to happen after that moment? ‘I really love that dynamic between beauty and sadness because that is what we experience continually. There are always these moments of quiet alienation and the sense of disconnect and moments of possibility’, explains Crewdson.

What is your central story?

Gregory Crewdson storytelling

Take time to get your inspiration flowing

It is important that you know in which situation you get inspired. Crewdson get’s inspired while he is swimming long distances: ‘you get lost in yourself and there is a sense of being apart from the world. The idea is to getting lost in a rhythm so your imagination can open up. Once in a while some images come to the surface’. Afterwards he is drawing these images and turns them into a storyboard. Take some time to explore your own inspiration flow. You can draw your ideas, but you can also work with a (digital) moodboard of course.

Find the right location

Go out and scout a good location. Or stay in and surf the World Wide Web. Although it is always best to visit the location before the shoot, so you get a good idea of the light and energy. You have to look for a setting that has the capacity to tell your story. This can be anything, from a barbershop to an empty factory or that strange café around the corner. It all depends on the story you want to tell. The images of Crewdson are always set in a suburban area. He doesn’t really know why is so drawn to these settings; ‘these towns are a backdrop for more submerged psychological drama. When I come up from New York and I’m entering these landscapes I literally feel the creative urges coming together’. He doesn’t bring his camera when scouting locations; ‘I like to take mental pictures. It’s more about getting a sense of the place’. You can also leave this part to the photographer of course.

Gregory Crewdson storytelling

Choose a photographer with the right photographic language

What kind of atmosphere do you want? What kind of light do you want? These are all questions you have to think about so you can pick the right photographer. Crewdson for example always shoots in twilight and always uses extra spots: ‘my pictures are a moment between two moments and twilight is a beautiful metaphor for that’. Writer Russell Banks ads: ‘dusk is a time of day where people’s lives are shifting from public to private. We all have secrets. I think that Gregory’s sense of human daily life is born by that understanding. They live with secrets, not so happily though’.

Blue velvet was a big inspiration for him while developing his photographic language: ‘this film changed my view of the world. I was already trying to look into domestic life and find a certain unexpected mystery but when I saw this movie it defines it even further. I started using light and colour. I tried to create a photographic language that hovered between the documentary picture and the cinematic’.

Don’t just shoot your collection but use fashion photography as a language to communicate your vision, your view of the world.