A decade passed between the summer of 1996, which photographer Gregory Crewdson spent meditating on the sprinkle of fireflies in the dusk of Becket, Massachusetts, and when he finally developed the film. After nearly another decade, the Fireflies series is being exhibited as a whole for the first time starting this month at Wave Hill in the Bronx.
The old mansion walls of Glyndor Gallery at the estate-turned-public-gardens are a quiet place to view the 61 black-and white-photographs, in which the only subjects are the pearls of illumination of the lightning bugs. Back in 2006, the photographs were compiled in a limited-edition monograph, but this marks their debut as an exhibition. To complement the show, Wave Hill is hosting evening nature walks as well as sunset hours on Wednesdays between July 2 and August 6 for firefly viewings on their 28 acres.
The Fireflies series makes quite a contrast with Crewdson’s better-known work: cinematic scenes that are highly staged and vividly colored, in which nature often turns into an otherworldly distortion in surreal suburbia. But he said in an interview with WNYC that although the firefly photographs are his “least-known work,” they are also “the closest to my heart.” This is partly due to the setting and solitude of being alone at his family’s cabin, taking aim with his small- and medium-format cameras at something so basic in the landscape, an introspective experience much different from his more high-profile work, which often involves massive shooting crews.
“It was the experience of taking the photographs that was most important to me at that time, rather than the actual images themselves,” he explains in the Wave Hill exhibition text. “When I began printing the work, after the summer, for various reasons I felt the need to put the photographs away. Maybe because the images were so removed from my actual experience of being there.”
In the photographs, the dots of insect light are frozen in swarms over silhouetted landscapes, dangle in chains in jars, or emerge abstractly from inky nothingness. The bioluminescence is all a flashy show, often part of a mating dance, a ritual of communication. Yet the photographs approach it more as a voyeuristic mystery, a strange and captivating rhythm on solitary summer nights.
Gregory Crewdson: Fireflies continues at Wave Hill (Glyndor Gallery, West 249th Street & Independence Avenue, The Bronx) through August 24.
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