The Artist Seeking out the Cinematic in Everyday Life

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See’s Candies, Payless, Supercuts 1, 2015Courtesy Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

“I can see drama in everything... even when there is none”: LA native Alex Prager tells AnOther about the themes underpinning her new Hong Kong exhibition

Everyday life is filled with fleeting moments of grandeur, when the mundane suddenly becomes majestic and you feel the overwhelming glory of being alive. American photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager understands this perfectly. “I can see drama in everything, the comedy and the tragedy, even where there is none,” Prager reveals. “My interest is with the emotional and psychological components in a frame. The technical, the narrative, and the process – all of that is secondary to the mood. This is what makes art timeless for me.”

The Los-Angeles based artist got her start after seeing a William Eggleston exhibition at the turn of the millennium. “When I first discovered photography I looked at the great street photographers and tried to make pictures like them,” Prager explains. “I’m still obsessed with street photography and it finds its way into everything I make.”

But Prager strayed from the documentary path, preferring to create staged photographs that embrace the cinematic elements of the medium. Imbuing each image with a theatricality that is at once visceral and spiritual, Prager finds the balance between fiction and fact by grounding her practice in truth.

This winter, Prager will be showing a selection of her signature photographs and films, along with her first exhibited sculpture at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong. Here, we speak about the influence of life in Los Angeles, the freedom of the staged photograph, the porous boundary between reality and imagination, and magic of playing with perception.

On the influence of life in Los Angeles…
“I’ve always been interested in creating images that feel familiar but surreal, nostalgic, but contemporary. Growing up in and living in Los Angeles has been an endless examination of reality and the artifice coming together in perfect harmony. In fact, it becomes iconic because it’s here to such a degree. ­The unchanging weather for one is undeniably eerie, our unique landscape and distinct culture are all ripe for storytelling. There’s no place like Los Angeles.”

On the freedom of the staged photograph…
“My obsession with street photography merged with my love of film among other things, and that’s when I felt I’d hit my stride. Everything I do is meticulously planned out and staged. I can plan for months, but the moment I arrive on set I have to be willing for anything to happen. Because anything can happen, and oftentimes those unpredictable moments are what makes it extraordinary.”

On the porous boundary between reality and imagination…
“I’ve fallen in love with the physical, the tangible. The fact that you could have physically touched every element in the frame is important to me. It keeps that honesty present on a fundamental level. And then I’m showing you something that’s fictional. There’s the lie right there, but not in how it’s made; the emotion and humour is real too. There are certain things that can’t be faked and that’s where the line to my audience is. If it were just an advertisement or a colourful image, I’d have lost you long ago.”

On the magic of playing with perception…
“I’m exhibiting my first sculpture, Hand Model (Detail), that takes the idea of scale to the extreme. It’s being shown alongside two other works that use the same hand in them but all in different forms. I’m playing with people. I like the idea that someone might look at the hand in the advertisement of Star Shoes and then see the sculpture and do a double-take. Which hand is real? Was the model actually a fabricated prop? I love the world in which you have to ask these questions.” 

Alex Prager will be on view at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong from January 18 – March 17, 2018.