Alex Prager's Girls on Film
Alex Prager's scene-stealing heroines have arrived in New York in Week-end, currently on display at Yancey Richardson Gallery. Like the two previous shows in this series (Polyester and The Big Valley), Week-end features large-format Technicolor portraits of luminous beauties done up in vintage Hollywood glamour. The Los Angeles native employs cinematic conventions such as the close-up and the damsel in distress, and the rich use of negative space to draw us into each carefully constructed scene. She leaves us just enough clues that we can piece together the narrative without giving away the big reveal. Stare long enough and you'll half expect the women to jump to life at the sound of a clapboard's loud snap.
JULIE (FROM THE SERIES "POLYESTER," 2007. COURTESY YANCEY RICHARDSON GALLERY
ERIN LINDHOLM: Your photographs, the way you use light and frame the scenes, they're strikingly cinematic—they feel like they could be a stills from a film. Where did that interest stem from?
ALEX PRAGER: I love old things. I love old clothes, old cars, the way makeup used to be—aesthetically, everything was better back then. The actress looked amazing and the lighting was perfect and the background was never over-exposed because they used these huge painted backdrops, or projected screens. Everything looked so incredible that no matter what dire situation the actress was in, you never felt like something horrible was really going to happen.
In my photos, there is that same element of making something seem less serious, because you're instantly drawn to the beautiful woman and the beautiful lighting and this kind of surreal world. But they [the photographs] aren't as happy and beautiful as they first appear. I feel like I trick people into looking at them. Does that make sense?
LINDHOLM: Now that you say that, you're right, there aren't really too many, if any, happy women in your photographs.
PRAGER: They aren't meant to be happy photos.
LINDHOLM: In your work, the city of Los Angeles plays the role of a supporting character. There's such a striking presence of the city in all of the scenes, whether it's the incredible saturated blue of the sky, or the beach, or those very specific locations that you scouted out. How has Los Angeles informed your work?
PRAGER: It's my home; I was born here. I love L.A., but it's a weird city because it's one of the only cities in the world where people aren't really walking down the street. It's easy to fall in love with the beauty of everything-the perfect weather all the time, everyone looks great. It's got this façade of being perfect, just like what you see in the movies. And then after living here for a while, you think, "Where are my friends? Where are all the people?" It can get really lonely and devastating.
LINDHOLM: How would your work be different if they were set in a different city?
EMILY 11x14, 2009. COURTESY YANCEY RICHARDSON GALLERY.
PRAGER: I've been wondering that actually. My photos haven't always been based around L.A. That was something that just happened one day when one of my grandmother's friends gave me her old clothes. She was an actress in the ‘50s; she had all these old clothes she was getting rid of because her kids didn't appreciate them and she knew that I did.
LINDHOLM: So the clothes inspired the series?
PRAGER: The clothes were kind of a set; they were intended for a famous actress to wear. A normal person wouldn't necessarily have worn them even back in the ‘50s. They were outrageous.
The girls, too—with Polyester [the first segment in the trilogy], it seemed like they knew they were acting in the photos, and they were giggling about it the whole time. Whereas as the series progressed, it seemed less and less like they were having a good time while they were playing "pretend." In Week-end, they've forgotten that they were acting to begin with, almost.
That's how I look at the series. It wasn't intentional; it just organically happened this way. Week-end, for me, feels like the end of the trilogy because it does seem more real and more devastating. The emotions seem more real; it seems like real-life. It doesn't seem like the girls know that it's this "pretend" world anymore.
WEEK-END OPENS AT M+B FINE ART IN LOS ANGELES ON JANUARY 30 AND REMAINS ON DISPLAY AT YANCEY RICHARDSON GALLERY IN NEW YORK THROUGH FEBRUARY 20. WEEK-END WILL BE ON DISPLAY AT RINGCUBE GALLERY IN TOKYO IN LATE APRIL AND AT MICHAEL HOPPEN GALLERY IN LONDON IN JUNE.