Alex Prager‘s photography is equal parts Hitchcock and Crewdson, with some hints of Sherman thrown in. Her images contain whole worlds, full backstories of all the characters, a sense of action before and after the millisecond captured on the film. Silver Lake Drive is a retrospective, of sorts, with selected images and film stills from projects completed between 2007’s Polyester and 2016’s La Grande Sortie, and it’s incredible.
Prager works like a film director, casting friends, family, neighbors, and extras in various roles, complete with wardrobe and makeup, and organizing her images like a studio picture. Here’s where the Crewdson comes in.
The resulting images harken back to earlier times, thanks to her costuming, drawn largely from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s (if my eye and memory are correct), set in scenes that recall The Birds or suggest some sort of intrigue, dialogue, or action in progress. And here, we see Hitchcock and Sherman (particularly the Untitled Film Still series).
The comparison to Hitchcock and Crewdson is obvious, and every review I’ve read brings them in, so I’m not saying anything new here. I love this sort of thing. Love it.
After all the comparisons to film, Prager started making films in 2010.
I haven’t managed to find any online, but haven’t looked too hard either. I expect they’re incredible too. I found most of her films on her excellent website, and they’re as incredible as I expected. In some ways, they’re her images expanded, transformed. In other ways, I her images are somehow more suggestive and thorough. They’re definitely worth a look.
These days, Prager shoots films and still photographs near-simultaneously, running around with what appears to be a Contax 645 dangling from her neck or clasped in her hand (in behind the scenes photographs from Jeff Vespa and others that appear in the last bit of the book).
Silver Lake Drive is organized into three sections. Part 1 is preceded by an essay by Michael Govan, includes selections from Polyester (2007), The Big Valley (2008), Week-End & The Long Weekend (2009-2012), and concludes with an interview with Prager by Nathalie Hershdorfer. Part 2 contains selections from Compulsion (2012), an essay on Face in the Crowd (2013) by Clare Grafik and selections from the series, and an essay by Michael Mansfield, plus some film stills from Prager’s film work. Part 3 opens with a wonderful series of heads, arms, legs, fingers, ears, noses, and other body parts poking through what looks to be a large sheet of flesh colored vinyl, then moves into still photographs and film stills from La Grande Sortie (2016). The book ends with some behind the scenes photographs, selected works, and a curriculum vitae.
Prager’s earlier work is much more Hichcockian, with single female figures and and small groups, engaged in some sort of suggestive action. Many of the images are close-ups of young women fleeing or looking anxious. Many of the figures look like dolls, with flawless, almost plastic looking skin and frozen expressions. She begins expanding her stories, adding in scenes of accident or disaster, with close-ups of expressive eyes, and by 2013, she’s working with full casts and large, constructed scenes.
Also, Prager’s work moves from looking at individuals and groups from eye level, or slightly below, to looking down from a great height, to looking at large groups in wide, constructed scenes. An untitled series in part three has a few images from below, like looking through a glass walkway or something. This series follows the set of body parts emerging from vinyl and moves into her staged street photography-style photographs. I find it interesting to think about these different angles and the stories they can tell.
Reviewers sometimes compare Prager’s color sense to Eggleston, but I don’t see it. Sure, they’re both shooting in color, but Eggleston’s color is very different, with a grain and depth and saturation that just isn’t there in Prager’s work. Her color is much more plastic. There’s virtually no grain, the color is hyperreal, obviously not entirely natural, and while the wardrobe her actors wear is from the same time period as Eggleston’s famous work, his subjects owned and wore their clothes. Prager’s subjects are actors in wardrobe. Eggleston’s subjects may be wearing wigs, but any wigs in his work are “natural” and don’t appear too often (as far as I know). Many of Prager’s characters wear seemingly obvious wigs to help control the scene she wants to construct.
I’d call her color more akin to Sherman and Crewdson, really. I love Eggleston, and I love Prager too, but their working methods, subjects, and tools are entirely different.
To be honest, while I really love all of Prager’s work, I have a deeper affinity for her earlier, more Hitchcock/Sherman photographs. The street scenes are good and tell many more stories all at once than the earlier still work, but I like the more singular focus of her earlier work.
Overall, I rate Silver Lake Drive a highly recommended 4.5 stars.
I picked up this copy of Silver Lake Drive used from Half Price Books online. It’s still available new direct from Thames and Hudson. Prager’s website is definitely worth a thorough visit, especially if you’re interested in photography’s narrative qualities and film’s image properties. A total don’t miss.