Alex Prager, Crowd #4 (New Haven), 2013. Archival pigment print, 59.5 x 75 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York and M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.
Crowds have long been a subject of fascination for photographers, from the curious spectators in Weegee’s pulpy crime scene photos of old New York City to the color-soaked beachgoers cataloged by Martin Parr.
But Los Angeles photographer Alex Prager has taken it a step further in her documentation of crowds — staging imaginary scenes seemingly influenced by a mix of Alfred Hitchcock suspense, the Technicolor style of William Eggleston and the costume design of Cindy Sherman.
Prager’s “Face in the Crowd,” which is being presented at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., until March 9, features large-scale photos of hundreds of costumed actors she shot on specially constructed sets including a movie theater lobby, an airport terminal and a beach.
Viewers are given a bird's-eye view of the hustle and bustle of the crowd. But Prager has infused the people in her photos with distinct individuality, and each person’s face invites examination of emotions and motivations. At the focal point of most photos is a female protagonist who usually appears lost or frightened — mimicking the anxiety that Prager herself has felt in packed public spaces, even as she has been curious about those around her.
"I’m fascinated by the experience of being involved in other people’s lives accidentally,” Prager said. “Crowds have always been an interest of mine. It may look like a sea of people, but there are so many interesting stories, all colliding silently.”
Among the themes Prager said she is exploring with the photos is how connected people really are in a society where people have been prone to oversharing on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The exhibit also features a short film starring actress Elizabeth Banks and images of Prager’s earlier work, which has often been set around women in lonely and somewhat sinister environments — a reoccuring theme in her photography, which has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue and W Magazine.