Technically a photograph, this is actually a still from a nonexistent film. Alex Prager – who has a show later this month at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, plus a lavish retrospective book, Silver Lake Drive – does not snatch momentary excerpts from life. Instead the American photographer assembles a cast of characters, directorially positions them, and instructs them to enact private dramas derived from a script she writes in advance.
These supposed travellers occupy separate squares on a floor that is patterned like a chessboard. Some wear clothes with wittily chequered patterns to underline the angular regularity of the game, and those who look wonderingly skywards watch for the hand that will reach down and shift them sideways or diagonally. Transfixed, as if running on the spot, they have no volition of their own. One man has settled down on his suitcase to read, others are absorbed in arguments with members of their own small group. The woman with the stroller pushes a pair of inert adult dolls, shrunken replicas of the immobilised figures all around. Everyone lugs luggage: don’t they know that bags now have wheels? Gestures semaphore exhaustion, or perhaps bewilderment. Worryingly, the uniformed pilot has no idea where to go or what to do.
Prager captures the retrenched estrangement from others we experience when jumbled into crowds, and also our passivity when we’re fed through a mechanised system that tells us we are travelling when in fact we are only herded into docile queues or strapped into seats while a plane transports us to a destination of its own choosing. By definition, passengers are passive. Like Prager, who choreographs the scene out of sight on her aerial perch, we are all unmoved movers.