I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the photographer/artist Alex Prager but I think you might like to be. Ms. Prager is a visual storyteller. Based out of Los Angeles, she is a self taught photographer that stages dramatic vignettes for her camera. As a young woman, she was inspired to take up photography after seeing the color images of William Eggleston. She takes her cues from a variety of pulp fiction influences. It is easy to see the influence of directors Alfred Hitchcock and Douglas Sirk but I would add that you can see a little bit of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in her work as well. There is a huge fashion editorial point of view, which makes sense as she is a fashion darling, having shot for W magazine and Bottega Veneta, both co-sponsors of her latest exhibit. Prager’s photographs are like movie stills, each photo telling a story through vivid colors, dramatic wigs and make up and unexpected angles. I think her photos are riveting.
Alex Prager at the Corcoran, November 2013.
Prager is exhibiting for the first time in Washington, D.C. at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The new exhibit is called Face in the Crowd. It opened November 23, 2013 and runs through March 9, 2014. Art critics are saying this is her most ambitious exhibition to date. Ms. Prager works at capturing “the psychological narratives of private and public revelation, repulsion, fear, personal safety and the desire for basic human interaction” through her series of photographs and video installations. Face in the Crowd images are presented with some of her earlier work which include three of her videos Despair (2010), La Petite Mort (2012) and Sunday (2012).
The Face in the Crowd installation features large scale photographs of people assembled in congested public spaces such as airport terminals, beaches, movie theaters, well, you get the idea…crowds. The photographs as very detailed and are shot from a thoughtful, personal angle. We are voyeurs, we are supposed to feel what they feel. Prager says “I’m fascinated by the experience of being involved in other people’s lives accidentally. Crowds have always been an interest of mine. It may look like a sea of people, but there are so many interesting stories, all colliding silently.”
After her successful 2010 MOMA exhibit, Prager began to travel frequently and as a result, her fascination/fear of crowds began to develop. After visiting airports and metro stations in unfamiliar cities, she realized she found crowds terrifying and anxiety provoking. “Suddenly, I was traveling from airport to airport and becoming more of a public person. It was jarring. Having to speak publicly and be in public, I realized I had huge anxiety that I didn’t know existed.”
Despair (2010), Prager’s first film, features Bryce Dallas Howard. Ms. Prager says the film is a “full sensory version” of her photographs with an attempt “to show the before, now and after of one of my images.” Its was inspired by the 1948 film classic, The Red Shoes.
Prager’s latest film starring Elizabeth Banks is aptly called, Face in the Crowd. Ms. Prager says about the film, “the film was shot at the same time as the stills. It’s the most cohesive work that I’ve done, I think, as far as the film and the photographs, because they were shot together and they were intended to be shown together. I have Elizabeth Banks. I chose her because I thought she would be a really good, All-American, working-class girl that looks really beautiful but also isn’t intimidating and feels familiar. And she could lead us through the crowd. I wanted her to be sort of curious about the crowd at first through the privacy of her room, and she’s looking out the window, and she wants to be a part of the crowd, and she’s curious about these people. And then she goes out into the crowd — and before too long the crowd becomes overwhelming. She kind of has a bit of a overwhelming panic experience where she becomes frantic, and the crowd kind of eats her alive”.
Would you like to know another interesting fact about her work? Her sister Vanessa, in a Where’s Waldo kind of way, is featured in every single crowd picture as a different character. They have lived together for ten years. Interesting no?
Ms. Prager’s work has been exhibited worldwide. Her fashion editorial work has been featured in Vogue and W magazine. The New York Times Magazine commissioned a short film, Touch of Evil, which won a 2012 Emmy Award. She is represented in the collections of many major museums including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.
Here’s some more work to enjoy.
I would like to tell you about another fabulous up and coming photographer. Her name is Rosie Brock and she is a dear friend of my twin daughters. She went to the Corcoran and met Alex Prager and showed Ms. Prager her work. Needless to say, Ms. Prager was VERY impressed. She is so talented I know we will be seeing her work at the Corcoran or MOMA or some other fabulous museum in the near future. Please view her work at Rosie Brock Photography.
Face in the Crowd through March 9, 2014 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. N.W. Adults, $10. Children younger than 12, free. www.corcoran.org or 202-639-1700.