The Frozen Vignettes of Alex Prager

The Frozen Vignettes of Alex Prager



For much of her career, photographer Alex Prager has sought minute meaning in large, crowded compositions; often deftly nudging the viewer’s eye to a mischievously planted detail.

Signatures on the cast of a high school football player, a bandage on the nose of a woman running in terror, the face in the reflection of a handheld mirror or figure revealed to be a cardboard cut-out – these small, surrealist accents, when observed within the context of such busyness, invariably play out as the crux of her trademark macro-scale photographs.

Prager’s latest exhibition Part One: The Mountain plucks lone characters out of these would-be dioramas to create solitary, but no less busy, vignettes. By zooming in on the individual, Prager is paradoxically able to convey universal neuroses, ecstasies and anguish by turns – and often concurrently.

The native Los Angelino choreophraphs such scenes with meticulous detail given to every fibre of her subject; undoubtedly influenced by the dreamlike, sometimes overtly-manicured (but always visually captivating) aesthetic of classic Hollywood cinema. Nostalgia oozes out of every image, but it is not without a hint of self-referential irony. Or maybe irony is the wrong word – it’s sadder than that, as if the childhood promises of that golden era had an ugly, underlying catch.

High Noon | Edition of 6 © Alex Prager 2021

In High Noon a traditionally styled cowboy is seen falling to his knees in a scrubby, lifeless landscape, his revolver flying out of his hand towards the sky. The look on his face is difficult to decipher, and it is unclear whether his expression is one of despair or joy. Or perhaps it is release. In whichever case, his internal state has boiled over, manifesting in physical convulsions with his head thrown back and hat sailing towards the ground. Another image in the series, Dawn, features a contemporary female cherub, dressed only in white socks and earrings. The cherub’s arms and legs are outstretched, and she appears to be flying through the sky, but again the viewer cannot determine whether she is ascending in a state of elation or falling harshly back to earth. Each image in the series occupies similarly ambiguous territory, leaving space for the viewer to interpret each scene and draw their own conclusions about its narrative. These effects are all heightened by Prager’s use of timeless costuming and richly saturated colours that recall technicolour films, as well as the mysterious or inexplicable happenings she often depicts.  

The title of the exhibition itself is a nod to the symbolism of the mountain throughout the echelons of literature and art. Reckonings and revelations; a peak juncture that denotes soaring self-actualisation or the beginnings of a spectacular slippery slope to oblivion – however you interpret it, the mountain never fails to deliver dramatics!

Alex Prager is known for inviting the viewer to “complete the story” and we urge anyone in London between January 12th – March 5th next year to get down to Lehmann Maupin at Cromwell Place and experience these frozen vignettes for themselves.

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