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Gregory Crewdson's "Untitled," 1996, gelatin silver print.

Photographer Gregory Crewdson is known for his cinematic productions that place his themes of isolation and alienation within the Berkshires landscape in one meticulous photograph. His new show at the Berkshire Botanical Garden at first glance seems much different from that work.

Opening today, Saturday, June 12, in the Leonhardt Galleries and running through July 18, “Fireflies” consists of a series of photos Crewdson took of fireflies in Becket in 1996. For this show, Crewdson has chosen 20 from the original series. At the time, he was spending one summer there in his family’s cabin, a respite from Brooklyn and the big project he had just completed of large-scale studio photos.

Crewdson’s desire was to change things in a major way, to make the project as simple as possible. That meant two 35 mm cameras with black-and-white film and peaceful evening walks stalking his subject matter.

“Every evening at twilight, I’d go photograph the fireflies, because I love the idea of the light as a kind of narrative code telling the story in the most elemental way,” Crewdson said. “It's wondrous being out there alongside the lake just making these pictures religiously every evening.”

Crewdson’s bucolic ritual lasted two months and endured for several hundred rolls of film. But, at the end of the summer, when he developed the film and made contact prints, he was surprised by what happened.

“For some reason, I couldn't absorb them,” said Crewdson. “They felt like somehow it wasn't the same as being there, experiencing it directly. So my initial impulse was just to put them in the box and shelve the work. And I didn't really look at them for 10 years, for a whole decade.”

It was when he was working on the photos for his exhibit, "Beneath the Roses," that Crewdson revisited the photos.

“For some unknowable reason, I took them off the shelf and looked at them and then kind of fell in love with them for all the reasons that I couldn't really see them 10 years before,” he said.

Crewdson says that it was their simplicity and their “elemental quality” that spoke to him on this viewing and what he saw as their imperfection, the way that they illustrated “the impossibility of capturing something.” That idea is partly about capturing the feeling of being in the moment, in Becket, in the night, walking amongst the fireflies. It’s also about Crewdson’s use of light in his work, and the fact that a photograph isn’t the object itself, but light representing the object. With Crewdson’s fireflies, that’s even more the actual case.

“That's a paradox in the work because there's actually no fireflies in the work,” he said. “There's not a single one. It's the light of a firefly. All the camera has seen is the illumination. It's not seeing the actual firefly.”

The photos were eventually, finally shown. A few years later Crewdson’s father died and the cabin was sold and this has brought him to see the work as a memorial in many ways — to his dad, to his childhood memories of the landscape. And considering that the two times he turned to this work he was coming off large-scale productions, it’s also given the photographer a chance to think about not only how they differ from his cinematic photos, but how much the two bodies share.

“In contrast to my other pictures, which are large-scale and big prints, these are very small prints, very intimate. They are black-and-white. And they're printed in an edition of one, so there's just one picture. So it's like almost like a firefly itself,” said Crewdson.

“But I could say that, at the core, I feel like all of my pictures are about light and meaning. So even the large-scale cinematic productions I do, at the core, they are really about trying to tell a story with light. I think that was my interest in doing these pictures, because in the most elemental way, it's like telling a story, because the light of a firefly is a mating call and it's a pattern.”

And there is also what lies underneath the images. Crewdson’s work is known for capturing people in moments of displacement and obsession that are not wholly explicable in linear terms. The people are often in settings and situations that beg investigation, both on the part of the people in the photos and the people looking at the photos.

“All of my pictures deal with the uncanny, which is trying to find some sense of the wonderous or mystery in everyday life” said Crewdson. “That's how I would identify the uncanny. So to me, firefly light in a nocturnal landscape is uncanny.”

Since rediscovering the work, Crewdson says that he’s at peace with the idea that art can’t wholly capture the thing it is trying to capture, but can only exist as a representation of it.

“There's always a separation between the thing you make, the representation, and the thing itself. There's always a gap no matter how realistic or descriptive an artwork is. There's always something like a sense of loss because it's capturing a moment that will never occur again.”