Essential Macau Feb | The unreal world of reality

Cats, a hand with red nail polish and a woman who looks back - these scenes are not new to us in our everyday life. Through the lens of Alex Prager, however, everything melts into a dramatic, bizarre and unreal world.

Alex Prager, 39, female photographer and filmmaker, grew up between Los Angeles and Switzerland. Most of her works reflect the unreal reality world inspired by her cinematic childhood. This photographer never studied photography in school but one day in 2000 she happened upon William Eggleston’s photos, making her realise that she never chose a thing she was really passionate about. Thereafter she started to shoot with her first camera bought from e-bay, a used  Nikon  N90-S. 

Prager grew up watching old movies and shopping in thrift stores. A huge part of her works screams retro fashion and styling. She is also good at using staged, over-dramatised scenarios to reveal what lies beneath the artificial lights and gobs of makeup in her works.  

The crowd is an all-time inspiration of Prager’s works. Face in the Crowd is one of the most representative of her series. Just like her other works, the filmic quality series gathers hundreds of actors on constructed sets to create portraits of large crowds – in airport terminals, lobbies, beaches, cinemas and other public spaces.  

The photographer wants to highlight the contrast between crowded public spaces and a lone heroine. These large-scale photographs of crowd scenes expose the disconnect between individuals, while the new film Face in the Crowd explores the unspoken connections between individuals and is a much-needed reminder that we are part of something larger than ourselves.  

The characters in the photographs seem very random and unordered but every detail in the images are well designed by the photographer herself, including the outfits, makeup and gestures. The lead actress is a totally American-looking blond woman who is quite familiar in photographers’ country. Prager wants her images to be timeless so that people can find the connection with their daily lives. 

This talented photographer joins hand with Lehmann Maupin gallery again, bringing her latest work to Hong Kong from now until 13th March. These latest works push the theatrical narrative potential of her prior series. The imagery lays bare the artifice in its creation, achieved through impossible, contrived viewpoints, the layering of incongruent scenes – such as a rainy day on top of a sunny one – and other formal and technical controls that challenge the assumed naturalism of photography and film. 

Contemporary society is awash in visual information – the individual is presented with versions of reality in marketing, news, and social media, but they rarely pause to consider how their thoughts are guided in the process of looking. Prager’s work calls this into question, and not only reveals the scene she intends to present but makes the viewer aware of the psychological processes involved in their own observations.