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Alex Prager Expo

Photographer with strong retro glam influences show case images and debuts film work at London's Michael Hoppen Gallery

Alex Prager’s Hollywood heroines recall the photographs of William Eggleston and the surreal cinema of Hitchcock and Lynch. Adorned with wigs and dressed in 70s retro glamour, her characters explore American youth and pop culture in cinematic series' that appear to have stepped straight off a 1950's film set. Following critical acclaim for her 2008 series 'The Big Valley', Prager's captivating photographs have been selected to feature in MOMA's forthcoming exhibition, New Photography 2010. Opening June 10th Alex brings her tales to London in her first solo show at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, which will also present her first move into film with ‘Despair’, a film written by Prager and directed by Requiem for a Dream’s Matthew Libatique.

Dazed Digital: Your first UK show opens next month at Michael Hoppen. What is the concept behind the show?
Alex Prager: The show doesn't have a title because it is work from my series called Week-end that I opened a few months ago in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and includes five new pieces that I've shot since that show opened. I wanted to include the new pieces because I think they show an evolution of that Week-end series. I used older women when I took these ones and that affected the direction the pictures while we were shooting.

DD: Retro fashion and styling and is also a huge part of the images you create. What is it that draws you to this era of fashion and imagery in your work?
Alex Prager: I love retro fashion. I grew up watching old movies and shopping in thrift stores. I love the look of the films and the advertisements from back then… The lighting, hair and makeup, sets and all that are so over the top, they kind of act as a separation from reality. The elements create a world that is entirely it's own, making it seem they could make anything happen in this world. Melodrama used to be a genre. It was full of murder, crime and heartache, and because it was all done with a wink, and inside this little glamourous bubble, it didn't offend anyone, instead it excited the imagination and brought life to the world.
DD: You have also sited William Eggleston as an early influence, as well as the films of David Lynch.
Alex Prager: I can't say why I've always been drawn to a weirder, slightly eerie tone. William Eggleston's work made me to want to be a photographer. I saw his pictures and I couldn't understand how something that at first glance looked so much like a mundane snap shot, could dramatically effect the way I felt. These little colourful ‘boring snapshots’ completely changed the direction my life had been going in up to that point. David Lynch is great in the same way Fellini and Godard are great. He took these strange ideas in his head and put them on a screen for everyone to see. They are incredibly inspiring and makes anything seems possible.

DD: Despite your recent visit to Tokyo, your work seems intrinsically linked with American pop culture, the prom night, the movies... the beautiful and the damned...
Alex Prager: I like to use obvious themes in my work because I like to think that most of the people that pass by one of my pictures will be able to feel a connection with it on some level, even if that only ends up being surface deep.  Maybe the next time they look at it they'll see something beyond the obvious. The inspiration for a picture can come from anywhere, at any time. Once the picture is made, the character that the model became in a way tells me what her name is.

DD: Since your 2008 Polyester series your work seems to have become darker, the heroines more lost and the scenes a little more sinister.
Alex Prager: I start each series, in a sense, with my eyes closed, and then just kind of feel my way through. If a photo turns out well but doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the series then I won't use it no matter how much I like it. In a way, I guess the characters in the picture lead me. I agree that my work seems darker now than it did 3 years ago. I'm older and more aware of the world I live in than I was when I first shot Polyester, and I think that's impinged on my photography.

DD: Your debut short film ‘Despair’ will also launch at this show later this week. Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind the film?
Alex Prager: I look at this project more like one of my photographs coming to life for a few minutes to show the before, during and after of the story. To bring one of my pictures to life for a few minutes. The film is only 3 minutes, 30 seconds. I came up with the idea for the film the same way I would an idea for a still photograph, but instead, this idea involved a series of stills to get the concept across.

DD: How did the collaboration with come to work with Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream ) as Director of Photography on the film? And Is this move indicative of the future of your work as an artist?
Alex Prager: Jeremy Dawson and Jeff Vespa, two of the producers on my short, are good friends with Matthew. Of course, I love Matthews work so we asked him and luckily he said yes. He's an amazing cinematographer! I learned a lot by watching him work. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started the project (it's a lot of work!) but now that it's almost done I can definitely see myself doing more of these in the future. Making pictures move is a whole different world…

Week End opens at Michael Hoppen Gallery 10th of June and ends on the 10th of August. Michael Hoppen Gallery:
3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 3TD