By Christiner Chan
Alex Prager's highly proficient artistic sense effortlessly lured her into the world of photography. Not only has she built a career on it, her interest also extends into filmmaking, placing her under the international spotlight of photography and film. Many of her achievements such as the 2012 Emmy award and publications in prominent magazines, including New York Magazine and Vogue have validated her professionalism and passion for her craft.
Prager has transformed many of her visions into reality with her Contax 645 that she has been using for the past 12 years. Besides taking aesthetically beautiful photographs, she cleverly uses them to stimulate the consciousness of viewers as her works challenge their perception of reality and raise awareness of voyeurism.
Prager is known for her provocative photographs that throws her viewers off balance. What our senses detect as odd emanates from familiarity. It is meant to mess with your mind as she said in her exhibition opening at the Lehman Maupin gallery, Hong Kong. One will surely find the line between reality and fiction obscured in her staged photographs and films. Though this can be unsettling, her works cradle you with the comfort of finding your own consciousness.
Her work such as See's Candies, Payless, Supercuts 1 (2015) creates a misconception that the photograph was natural, without post production. However, the brick wall is scaled up compared to reality. Noticing that certain components are either too big or too small to be natural, brings our focus to the brick wall. But according to Prager, it seems to be least apprecaited out of her colleciton. Most of her other works have crowds gathered together, and the masses have become spotlight. However, in this image, Prager deliberately spreads her subjects across the frame, diverting the focus away from the characters. The brick wall takes centre space, captivating and challenging the viewer's perception of reality and fiction. Are the people too small or are the bricks too big?
Subjects as Props
When Prager shot the Hand Model (2017) she was intrigued by the idea of people as props. It became a train of thought that never went away. She saw that lively human beings can be seen as lifeless objects that she manipulates within her camera frame. A sculpture of a fabricated finger with long nail painted in red was produced afterward and juxtaposed with the Hand Model photograph in the exhibition. The artist revealed that it might be her favorite piece. Perhaps the obsession of exploring the idea of people as props have left her favoring this inviting piece.
Perfection in Every Detail
Much preparation is put into every piece of Prager's work, which often involves many temporary actors and a massive selection of costumes and props — each specifically chosen for the photo. Prager is very particular about her creative process, almost as if playing the role of a goddess, meticulously staging every single actor from head to toe. She spends a lot of time with each of her characters, deciding on every detail that will be captured. From the position of each actor and their pose, down to the colour of the wig and the freckles on an actor's face, Prager does not leave any component undetermined. She mentioned that if a wig is not the right shade of orange, it has to be dyed to the perfect shade a day before the photoshoot. Yet she admits that as much as she choreographs the photos and films, she has no full control of the reality at the moment the shutter captures her subjects. Left with what she described as "moments of reality", she spends months editing the images to create the perfect shot that she initially envisioned.
Tangle between Reality and Fiction
Even though knowing that the blood in fictional films is fake, Prager said she would still buy into it. She emphasizes that she sees things on an emotional level. Her staged works contradict reality, "Blurring the line between reality and fiction" as she said. Reality and fiction live together, having real feelings and emotions happening within a fictional world. Photographs are very emotional for Prager as she asks herself deep questions about things that are happening in her life through the works she created. Her work, such as La Grande Sortie (2016) is about problems she faces being on stage, having stage fright and anxieties towards both loneliness and crowds. She added that "These very real emotions live in a very fake world". As one can imagine being frightened watching a horror movie, Prager's work emphasizes these real emotions that fiction creates.
Prager is concered with how people can easily be drawn into her works. Sometimes when one is faced with reality, they cannot look at it for an extended period. But fiction, like distance creates a space that makes reality easier to process. Looking at reality within fiction, "is like syrup with the medicine," as she puts it.
Photography and Film
Every element within a frame is as authentic as the second they were captured and it invokes real emotions. Despite the edits, Prager insists that "Everything started in camera". One of her favourite works is Applause, 2016, which is a 10 second footage of people applauding to a performance. The looping of the applause creates an illusion of an endless applause which encapsulates the moment of admiration, a moment that cannot be recreated with any editing tools.
Contribute as Audience
Stripping away all the extra bits from a photo forces you to contribute your own narration into her works. For instance, in Shopping Plaza 1 (2015) and Hawkins Street (2017), Prager intentionally blacks-out some objects in the background, leaving the main subject brightly illuminated with vivid colours. This compels her viewers to draw a narration from their own imagination.