“A crowd can be a massive sea of strangers that becomes this anonymous cloud in your way. Or it can be hundreds of beautiful, special little individuals with their own experiential tracks,” says Los Angeles-based photographer Alex Prager. And she should know. Crowds and the people they contain are the subject of her highly acclaimed series Face in the Crowd, which debuted at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC last year and is now making a rare appearance in the UK, courtesy of a show running from Monday May 26 to Saturday September 27 at The Arts Club on London’s Dover Street.
Artifice is explicit in Prager’s work. Her crowds consist of costumed actors assembled on meticulously constructed sets ranging from street corners to lobbies (Crowd #6, Hazelwood, 2013, edition of six, $40,000) and beaches (Crowd #3, Pelican Beach, 2013, edition of six, $40,000, first picture). These are not real people but curated character types, and a closer look reveals that they are dressed in outfits taken from every decade since the 1950s. The sense of dislocation this creates is both unsettling and utterly compelling.
These intensely coloured photographs are simultaneously anonymous and intensely personal. Shot from a high viewpoint, we look at the crowd from above as though it’s a mass spectacle. However, Prager has interspersed the large-scale photographs with others in film-strip format. These zoom in on specific people – a blonde woman clutching a newspaper, an elderly man, his watery eyes looking up fixedly at we know not what (Face in the Crowd Film Strip #3, 2013, edition of six, $15,000) – instantly turning the sea of strangers into a collection of individuals, each with their own story to tell. Prager offers some clues – a pair of opera glasses, a street sign (Face in the Crowd Film Strip #4, 2013, edition of six, $15,000, second picture) – but ultimately, their narratives are ours to invent. Fascinating stuff.