Menu Close

Thinking pop culture

Because sometimes the Bee Gees don’t cut it

I don’t have any photographs in my apartment. I don’t have any on my desk at work either. They weren’t all destroyed in some spectacular blaze and no, my employer hasn’t issued any decor mandates. I just rarely take them and never display them.

Spending a year studying Proof (1991) in high school - of over-thinking the idea of photography - explains it a little. Add to this a dash of mildly crippling nostalgic melancholy. It’s best, needless to say, that I don’t visually memorialise anything that’ll later torment me.

Proof (1991)

I lived in Western Massachusetts for half of 2011. I took a couple of photographs of things that entertained me while there – the house of the $10 psychic next door for example, or the Ding Dongs truck always in the Walmart carpark – but I don’t have any that show what it really felt like for me there.

I was long convinced that finding such an image would be impossible. Not that I don’t think about this a lot, of course. The idea of art, of film doing justice to a place. I just always assumed it’s too hard an ask.

Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong.

By delightful accident, I chanced upon the Brief Encounters documentary last weekend. About the work of American photographer Gregory Crewdson. Not only is it perfectly possible to encapsulate the Western Massachusetts that I lived in, but apparently I needed a 50-year-old Brooklynite to do it.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (2012)

Yep, the Bee Gees had a stab with Massachusetts and one of my favourite singers – Frank Black – sings about it briefly in Fitzgerald. But both failed to get to the essence of a place that I found both beautiful but - for reasons that’ll take me a couple of years to fully process - thoroughly frightening.

Crewdson captures this.

Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Merchants Row), 2003.

More than just familiar architecture and foliage, Crewdson showcases the New England that Stephen King always writes about, that one-part-picture-postcard and one-part-small-town-grimness. In some fabulously stylised photographs.

Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Brief Encounter), 2006.

Watching the documentary - and then bingeing on as many Crewdson photos that I could find on-line - and my thoughts went to Melbourne. About capturing my city. In art, in song.

Years ago I had a boyfriend who lived on the other side of the Yarra. It was a Winter relationship, and - rugged up in the back of a taxi - the nighttime drive home would take me past the NYLEX clock. And I’d think of Paul Kelly’s “Leaps and Bounds”.

The song doesn’t do Melbourne justice, but it was right for that ride.

Paul Kelly “Leaps and Bounds” (1987)

For my sins - and against my normal good taste - if it’s raining and I’m walking outside, The Whitlams’ “Melbourne” is inevitably in my head. No, it doesn’t capture the city completely, but it works for wet footpaths in certain parts of town.

The Whitlams “Melbourne” (1988)

Wikipedia claims there are dozens of ditties written about the city. Not my Melbourne though. And the closest I’ve come photography-wise is a picture of the Bourke Street Mall taken in the 80s. (For some reason that hideous orange colour gets to the heart of something from my childhood).

Source: Oystein Klakegg, 1984.

On the upside, the serendipitous discovery of Crewdson gives me hope for locating my city somewhere in pop culture. For the moment I’ll settle for my smirky amusement at seeing the building I work in featured in the craptastic Knowing (2009).

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 184,300 academics and researchers from 4,971 institutions.

Register now