“There's something strange about the rift between reality and fiction,” says LA-born photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager of her work that sees her play dress-up with her sister and muse Vanessa in her Silver Lake studio. Inspired by Prager’s cinematic images, director Arnaud Uyttenhove translated them into a playful portrait, juxtaposing her color-saturated archive with still lifes of vintage costumes and props. Following bouts of agoraphobia, the MoMA 2010 New Photography artist began to explore the loneliness and alienation that crowds can provoke, coating her images’ dark mood with a saccharine veneer. “I'm interested in creating a world for these characters to live in,” explains Prager, whose work is part of collections at the Whitney Museum in New York and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. For her latest series Face in the Crowd, exhibited at her first solo museum show at Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the photographer channeled the voyeuristic gaze previously employed by Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin through the lens of 21st-century surveillance paranoia and post-Facebook isolation. “I want there to be a sense that something isn't quite right,” adds Prager, whose show includes a self-directed film with the all-American actress Elizabeth Banks. “Is it real or is it fake?” Frequently injecting her series with noirish moods that brings to mind the psychologically haunting clichés of Hitchcock, as well as pioneers such as William Eggleston, Weegee or Martin Parr, Prager’s portraits blur the boundaries between the real and the surreal, the immediate and the staged, the contemporary and the nostalgic.
Which emotions do you associate with crowds?
Alex Prager: Anxiety, boredom, fear, terror, frustration, curiosity, strong interest, warmth.
Unlike Eggleston, who captures the fleeting moment, your images are staged.
AP: By staging them, I can create an emptiness or flatness that wouldn't otherwise be there. I am not interested in taking pictures of real crowds.
How does cinema inspire you?
AP: The production aspect is really important to being able to make my work. I'll see shots in old movies and think, wow, I didn't know you could do that. I guess the thing about movies is that everything is possible. Knowing that opens a lot of doors in the imagination that wouldn't otherwise be there.
Face in the Crowd at Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC runs through March 9, 2014.