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Alex Prager "Face in the Crowd" @ M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

Photography // Wednesday, 22 Jan 2014
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Alex Prager... busy, busy, busy. What have we seen recently from the standout photographer. Shows around the country, Portlandia shoots, and now a new exhibition at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles for her "Face in the Crowd" series. This body of work was created specifically for Prager’s first major solo museum exhibition in the United States at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. that opened in November 2013.

For ten years, Prager has staged imaginary scenes for her camera—dream worlds in Technicolor, rife with tension and melodramatic fictions. Deftly blending archetypes from post-war America, her images have re-enacted and burlesqued media portrayals of women, drawing from classic Hollywood movies, fashion advertising and icons of documentary photography. Face in the Crowd expands on her tradition, but in her most ambitious and complex way to date. Blurring the line between fiction and reality, Prager directed the actions of hundreds of costumed actors on specially constructed sets creating congested public spaces including an airport terminal, a City Hall lobby, a beach and the Sunset 5 movie theatre. Densely detailed and shot from seemingly impossible vantage points, the work enacts psychological narratives of private and public revelation, repulsion, fear, personal safety and the desire for basic human interaction.

“I’m fascinated by the experience of being involved in other people’s lives accidentally,” Prager said, noting that her work has been influenced by time spent in busy cities such as New York and London. “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.”

The stories of the various characters within these crowds culminate in a new film, featuring actress Elizabeth Banks. Together, the film and the photographs uphold a portrait of the individual within the complexity of the larger crowd. Prager's focus on this dynamic can be traced to specific influences: silent films like Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times; photographers Martin Parr, Garry Winogrand, Bruce Gilden and Helen Levitt; the darkness and the humor from Roy Andersson's film Songs from the Second Floor; and the well- known children's books Where's Waldo? Throughout Face in the Crowd, each character maintains their own agency within their cinematic circumstances. In exploring the notion of identity and the performative aspects of public life, Prager has created a universe where the crowd that gathers is the true spectacle.

 

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