Emotional Theatricality

Emotional Theatricality

Taking place over two floors and encompassing 40 photographs, Silver Lake Drive at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, is a major new exhibition that marks the first mid-career survey of artist Alex Prager. With an oeuvre than spans photography and filmmaking, Prager has enjoyed an incredibly fruitful career over the last ten years, which is celebrated here in a display of her trademark highly saturated photographs and film works.

Drawing inspiration from classic American artists such as William Eggleston, Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman, the pieces in this show walk the line between a hyper-real and dreamlike aesthetic that ignites a curiosity within the viewer as to what the protagonists’ stories are. Existing on the border between art, fashion and film, these pieces draw from each discipline as a way of bringing out the melodrama and dark underbelly of the subjects’ inner lives.

With the early works predominantly shot on set in Los Angeles, where highly produced scenes were created using period specific costume, makeup and high-key lighting, Prager developed a signature style that comes into its own in Crowd. In this series, large groups of people are depicted but in such sharp focus that they take on the roles of different characters, each equally important to the overall story that is being played out in the images. The spaces that contain the figures are environments where people are forced into close proximity with each other, such as airports, theatres, beaches or streets. Often capturing these scenes from above, Prager plays on the voyeuristic role of the viewer, whose gaze is cast downwards as if in a position of surveillance.

With an interest in gender roles and the emotional landscape of women within these crowds, Prager regularly singles out individual female figures, who stare up towards the camera or are shown in close-up. Seeking a connection with the onlooker and revealing the performative nature of the theatrical set-up that contains them, these characters are often distressed and appear as if they have a story to tell or important information to impart.

This theme runs throughout Prager’s moving image work as well, which she has described as “full-sensory versions” of her stills. Attempts “to show the before, now and after” of the images, these immersive film installations have most recently relocated to Paris, where The Opera Bastille serves a backdrop for an emotional exploration of a prima ballerina performed by Emilie Cozette.

Celia Graham-Dixon

 Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive runs from 15 June to 14 October at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. Find out more at the gallery’s website by clicking here.

A fully illustrated catalogue will be published with Thames & Hudson in 2018 to accompany the show.

1. Alex PragerCathy (2009), C-print, 48 × 63 in

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