Spanning four decades, Settings and Players: Theatrical ambiguity in American photography traced possible routes in the development of photographic practice concerned with the metaphorical nature of daily life and the advent of what has come to be known as ‘the directorial mode’. Settings and Players took as its point of departure the groundbreaking, politically charged work of Diane Arbus, William Eggleston and Robert Adams, who capture to epic effect the pervasive melancholy of everyday events, environments and characters in American life. The subsequent generation – including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Tina Barney, Stephen Shore, Cindy Sherman, Larry Sultan, Nan Goldin and Richard Prince – open up new, more complex dimensions of meaning and affect by directing this quotidian experience into images of dramatically heightened realism. This is achieved using varying degrees of theatrical invention (diCorcia’s enigmatic imitations of life, Sherman’s infinite ciphers of femininity) and theatrical intent (Goldin’s colour-saturated visions lived out in histrionic fullness, Prince’s wan and emptied-out American idyll). While the altered states of Gregory Crewdson’s moments of village life gone strange and Collier Schorr’s portrayals of polymorphous sexual and national identity tease at the tension between reality and artifice, emerging talents such as Justine Kurland and Anna Gaskell move into territories of even more overt contrivance, drawing inspiration from the iconographies of mainstream film, narrative art and fabulist literature in their depictions of young girls playing out the spaces and dramas of their own making.