Alex Prager has a new exhibition at the Michael Hoppen gallery and I went along to check it out, as I am a big fan of her work. If you are not familiar with what Alex’s work is about then the best thing to do is go along and see for yourself, its a relatively small but rewarding exhibition.
New work by Alex Prager
Shooting beautiful models is a simple thing to do, but the real skill comes in shaping a context and narrative for those models, and having a direction for the work- too often photography concentrates almost entirely on the body and the appeal of the gaze without the photographer bringing anything of themselves to the work. Alex’s approach could not be more different, meticulous levels of planning, and models hidden under wigs, mascara and a often palpable sense of fear or dislocation help her to achieve a narrative that lasts long after you have stopped looking at the work. Her skill comes from an apparent ease of harnessing the visual language of others, particularly Hitchcock and Lynch but then turning it in on herself and her subjects. Whilst the models often appear remote the work seems very deeply personal- there is a sense of loss and even lost identity here, yet at the same time a strength of independence and strong character. Her models aren’t weak, or objectified they have a tangible sense of the real, which is somehow only enhanced by the artifice of the wigs, the make-up and the general accoutrements of an extensive Vintage/Thrift store Hollywood wardrobe. She displays a very acute eye for styling and the luxurious detail of her images just add a further layer of intrigue to the work. It is immediate that these works are a fiction but the effect is so convincing that the viewer starts searching or constructing a back story to all her subjects.
She is also seemingly able to make a trademark of something as conventional as a low down wide angle, shot towards the sky, slightly reminiscent of Kubrick perhaps but she is carving out this shot as one of her own. Her work doesn’t so much hint at a narrative but instead gives you a definite direction to read her images, however they remain deliberately obtuse and hold back as much of the ‘act’ as they reveal. Alex’s glorious use of colour owes a debt to Lynch at his manipulative best and her use of the glance, the lost thousand yard stare and obvious flash lighting talks of a love of the street work of Philip LorcaDiCorcia.
New work by Alex Prager 2
The only slight reservation I have is the quality of some of the printing is not great, the main subject often looks incredibly lush and deep, with rich colours and a fantastic sharpness, but a closer look reveals skies covered in digital noise. The image above, of the Taxi is one of the best prints in the room with the even the rain itself taking on a richness and depth. As her attention to detail seems so acute it made me wonder how deliberate this supposed noise flaw was- but on further consideration I think it is just the limits of the media used. I’d love to have a go at working on one of her files for C-type printing though…
Using the landscape of Los Angeles only adds further layers to her work, planes fly above in a deep blue sky, the language of movie making is here in every way- and she even presents her first short film Despair starring Hollywood star Bryce Dallas Howard, whilst it lacks the originality and impact of her stills it shows an engaging photographer making a strong move forward into what surely must be a natural progression by someone so influenced by the concept of “The Movies” and in particular the myth building narrative of the 50′s and the what it means to be lost and alive in Los Angeles- the city of character reinvention and artifice. It remains to be seen if she could work with a studio that would fully support her ideas but her photography already has a strong commercial angle and she appears keen to discuss the Hollywood legacy already so a film is a very promising step indeed.
I really recommend this exhibition if you ever intend to ‘construct’ images, as whilst its also her detail that engages it is the knowledge of when to hold back, when a close up may be of far more use than a wide angle, and how much information to directly lead the viewer with. She is apparently an early master of this medium and the release of new images often has the feel of a movie premiere due to the inter connected role of her models, (is this new image a sequel or prequel) and maybe its time you caught up with what’s been happening in Prager’s semi-fictional world.
The exhibition is free and open until 17/7/2010.