Photo from Gregory Crewdson’s Cinecittà series (image via

Photographer Gregory Crewdson is largely known for his surreal suburban landscapes, posed and shot like something out of a postmodern Edward Hopper painting. But the artist also has a more sensitive side. In this 2009 series featured in the New York Times, Crewdson shoots a partly retired Italian movie set with a different kind of sensitivity.

Featured in the New York Times, Crewdson’s photos document Cinecittà, the famed Roman film studio that housed backdrops for movies including Death in Venice and La Dolce Vita, as well as The Life Aquatic. The storied film set is a symbol of Italy’s cultural relevance, both ancient and modern — Crewdson’s photos document the faux-ancient Roman backgrounds that directors use to fetishize Italy’s own history, black and white, aged, old yet new. Yet the photos also point to the dilapidation and decay of the same sets, pointing to the current aimlessness of Italian cultural affairs and culture’s relationship with politics, something that writer Michael Kimmelman takes care to elucidate.

Photo from Gregory Crewdson’s Cinecittà series (image via

Yet even as Italy’s cultural identity founders, the film studio that Crewdson documents is actually on the upswing. Combining private use with public funding and tourism money, Cinecittà is finding a way to survive even alongside the ups and downs of the Italian government and Berlusconi. In this sense, Crewdson captures a place that is both living and dying at once, historical and contemporary at the same time. I think that’s why the photos feel so heavy to me, weighted down with history, but also with our ideas of history, what it should be and what it is. The photographer plays with perception versus reality, and the relentless idealism of movies.


  • For another break from Crewdson’s normal suburban surrealism, check out the artist’s series of photos of fireflies, shot at his parents’ house in upstate New York.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...