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July 21, 2014

Alex Prager: Crowd Control

The Philosophical Artist Continues Her Transition to Film With a Brand New Premiere

“I was traveling more than ever over the past several years: airport terminals, subways stations, streets of New York and London,” says Los Angeles native Alex Prager. “I became very aware of the crowds of people and how my emotional and psychological state really determined what I noticed in the crowd and how I absorbed it.” Channeling the personal experience into her latest short film, Face in the Crowd, taken from her M+B- and Lehmann Maupin-exhibited show of the same name, the artist allows viewers to witness the before and after of one of her saccharine-coated, Golden Era-indebted photographs. The melodramatic clip––shown here for the first time––has echoes of the famous last scene in Fellini's 8 ½ and sees 30 Rock actress Elizabeth Banks play an all-American beauty observing a cast of exhibitionist characters before finding herself thrust among them. “Every time I'm in New York I'll have a moment like this,” says Prager. “The second you leave your house you are confronted with a crowd. The choice you have is to either let it swallow you up, or use it as inspiration.” 

Can you tell us a bit more about how the film came about?
Alex Prager: I was dealing with a very visceral reaction to public speaking––stage fright––something I didn't know I had until I was suddenly confronted with an audience. I've always had a strong interest in crowds; I had been wanting to shoot crowds for years, but I wasn't trying to just re-enact crowds that we've seen before, I was trying to create a staged world for these crowds to live in. I wanted to construct crowds that brought the feel of the cinematic, a manufactured world, and meld them with reality. 

How do you cast the picture-perfect scenes?
AP: I use my friends, people I found in cafés or on sidewalks, as well as go through casting companies to find professional extras. My sister was the only person who was in every single crowd shot dressed as a different character. She is the Where's Waldo in Face in the Crowd.

What was the last crowd you encountered?
I went to Art Basel in Switzerland a few weeks ago because the exhibition was being shown with Lehmann Maupin at Art Unlimited. I did a panel discussion for the Salon Sessions. These things always feel a bit overwhelming before I go on stage, and then gradually, as I look out and start to notice individuals, it becomes less and less intense.

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Trick of the Trade

An Abstract Ode to Photographic Craft from Michael Bodiam

It’s impossible to look at a set of images without bringing yourself into it. The argument you had with your partner that morning, the flighty thought of hooking up with your confidante at Art Basel Miami or the inescapable fact that this Christmas is your turn with the in-laws. Michael Bodiam’s series The Tools We Use invites you to step on the merry-go-round of synaptic thought. What are we looking at? A Takashi Murakami origami monster? The set for Tron: Legacy II? A 3D dancefloor? Our minds try to make sense of the images, whether the curled photographic paper makes you think of Yves Klein’s “1959 Untitled Monochrome” or simply a stolen kiss; whether the smoke billowing out of a curtain reminds you of a forbidden cigarette you sucked on surreptitiously. Bodiam stumbled upon the subject matter while looking for something to photograph with art director Yarra Jones.  “When you try to shoot something that’s commercially relevant, you need an object,” he says. “I soon realized, I had an enormous collection of design items, in the form of the photographic equipment that I spend my days with. We had what we needed already.”

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Roe Ethridge: Sacrifice Your Body

A Vivid Series From the Dilettante of Low Culture and High Fashion

Roe Ethridge juxtaposes fashion compositions with rough-and-ready snapshots of ordinary life in Sacrifice Your Body, his latest collection of photographs, published by Mack Books. From the posed to the unplanned, the New York-based artist and photographer is indiscriminate in his focus: portraits for luxury brand Alexis Bittar and still lives rub shoulders with dead fish and discarded cartons. His nomadic style was initially informed by his experience working as a photographic assistant on multiple types of assignment, ranging from catalogue and commercial work to stock photography. "I always loved fashion pictures and the notion of commercial photography, people like Irving Penn," Ethridge says. NOWNESS caught up with the artist who has been exhibited at institutions across the globe, including MoMA in New York, the Barbican in London and Les Recontres D’Arles in France, and was shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2011. 

Why Sacrifice Your Body?
Roe Ethridge: When I played High School football in suburban Atlanta I used to hear this group of mothers shouting "Sacrifice Your Body!"

Do you try to break down the divide between commercial commissions and casual snapshots of ‘real’ life?
RE: I don't know if I feel like it's a breaking down process. I used to think of it as a kind of 'atomizing' but now I think its so much about how to recombine, to synthesize.

The Scot Tissue toilet paper in the Chanel shoot undercuts the notion of luxury while still elevating it. Which do you prefer—the discarded or the stylized?
RE: That one was for Self Service. I found that toilet paper roll in the basement of my house in Rockaway Beach. I'm guessing it's from the 40s. Discarded or stylized? Both are necessary for me.

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