culture

Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive

Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive
The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramilles Street, Soho, London, W1F 7LW

During my wanderings on a dreary day in London, I found myself in The Photographer’s Gallery. Being an avid fan of photography and holding a certain fondness for losing myself in a cultural exhibition or two, I had nothing to lose, right?

Despite having never known of Prager prior to visiting The Photographer’s Gallery, I had coincidentally stumbled across Silver Lake Drive: an exhibition chronicling a decade of her work. And what a discovery it was. The spectrum of large-scale works cover two floors of the gallery, a real treat for photography fans alike, colour igniting each frame hanging on the walls of each floor with the audio backdrop of Prager’s short films playing in various corners of the gallery. The experience is almost mystical with the meticulous composition of each individual work drawing the eyes this way and the next.

My introduction to both Prager’s photography and filmography turned my previous knowledge of these particular cultural arts upside down. Her use of colour, costume and retrospective mise-en-scène broke all the codes of conventions I previously had in my mind. Each of her pieces boasts narrative possibility and depth, and seemingly evokes images in the mind reminiscent of the Pop Art era, perhaps inspired by the likes of Warhol or Litchenstein. Her composition and costume most definitely gives a nod to the late 50’s to early 60’s era.

Her subjects, predominantly female, reflect the promise of perfection. Never a curl out of place, lips perfectly lined and delicately pressed pinafore dresses galore, the performative females are a visual picture of almost perfection. However, Prager uses both body language and facial expression to relay an undertone of darkness, unsettling in nature. As Prager has previously stated in interviews, she grew up in LA where visual image takes priority, perfection is the goal in all aspects of life, but behind this perceived perfection often lies a hidden darkness. Her personal analysis of LA’s environment is clearly the influence behind her works, such as Sheryl (Week-End, 2010) and Eve (The Big Valley, 2008), where both subjects, though visually perfect, appear visibly frantic and perhaps even slightly fragile.

While it is true that emotions connoting a ‘damsel in distress’ character type are evident in a portion of her works, don’t be fooled. Prager’s portrayal of rebellious, androgynous women are very much present in her decade of work, too. Take Amy and Michelle (Week-End, 2010) for example, Amy sporting what seems to be a Mia Wallace inspired, black hair cut whilst Michelle injects the colour Prager is renowned for with her fiery red hair. Wearing prints seemingly iconographic of the early 70’s era, perhaps taking a step away from the prim and proper realm of the 50’s/60’s, a common theme in Week-End, Prager migrates from the emotive undercurrent of distress and steps into rebellion as the two light a cigarette with a rather large flame. Defiance, androgyny.

But Prager’s blurring of emotive lines and nostalgic recreations of eras gone by doesn’t end at photography. When asked in interviews what inspired her progression into the art of film, Prager explains the questions asked by her audience – what happened before you took this photograph? What’s the story? Prager makes the point that these questions could be construed as odd, as the audience are aware that the photos are staged: nothing happened prior to the photograph being taken. These questions don’t seem so odd when observing the emotion-filled scenes that these photographs capture – from the low angle close-up shots of the female protagonists, conventional of emotive filled narratives, to the long shots of women hanging from cars or floating in the Pacific: no matter the angle, Prager always manages to display an undercurrent of overwhelming emotion.

That undercurrent of overwhelming emotion transforms into melodrama in her short films. Featuring at The Photographer’s Gallery, Despair (2010) is a great example of this. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Help), her eyes glistening with tears are transcendent of the building danger, evoked by the symbolism of the colour red, in both her Oz-like ruby heels and the pillar box red door she enters before leaping from a top storey window. Enter the paradox: much like her photography, Prager seemingly uses the symbolism of red not only to convey impending danger, doom and the distress of the female protagonists, but perhaps even power. The femme fatale imagery seems to take precedence within the females characterised by despair. Despite their despair, freedom seems always within their grasp. Upon leaping from the window, Howard’s tears seem to disappear and an expression of bewilderment dominates her face: she is free, free of the previous emotion. Perhaps as free as the plane that crosses over her at the beginning, perhaps as free as the bird which passes behind her. This realisation of her floating freedom seems to kiss the edges of her red stained lips, much as the final shot of her ruby slippers suggests: she’s not in Kansas despair, anymore.

Face in the Crowd (2013), Prager’s three screen installation is also screening at the Silver Lake Drive exhibition. Starring Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, Modern Family), and featuring as part of her larger exhibition, Face in the Crowd depicts the disconnect of the people despite being so close in proximity, and presents the paradox of loneliness in a crowded room. Prager skilfully and effectively evokes the flustered and almost claustrophobic feelings of the protagonist in her audience – the three screens creating an overwhelming feeling for the spectator, and as Banks faces onto the audience, her hand resting on the window pane in front of her with a face full of bewilderment and despair, Prager invokes the same feeling of entrapment in her spectators. Whilst Prager’s photography conveys the undercurrent of emotion, her filmography makes way for a certain level of melodrama which demolishes any possible undercurrent and simply makes each short film jam-packed with emotion: despair, entrapment, loneliness, bewilderment, the list is endless. In consequence, Prager invokes those feelings onto her spectators, her short films staying in their minds for the duration of time afterward.

Prager’s success is evergrowing, her photographs featuring in galleries and museums all over the world, Musée des beaux-arts Le Loche (Switzerland), Lehmann Maupin (Hong Kong), FOAM Fotografiemuseum (Amsterdam), the list is endless. A brief Google of her name brings up a plethora of credible works she has done for the likes of W Magazine, Vogue and The New York Times. The future for Alex Prager looks as bright as her protagonists’ lipstick.

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travel

A Few Of My Favourite Things About Madrid

Having spent months living in Madrid during my year abroad, I definitely fell in love with the city. I thought it would be interesting to share a few a favourite of my aspects and places in the city!

  • La Plaza de Cebada, La Latina – I had heard so much about the edginess of Madrid; the youth, the flea markets, the cool cocktail bars etc. La Plaza de Cebada was my first taste of this, having visited the first time on a Sunday, it was full of young people like me. There was live music, cold beers on sale for €1 and really cool graffiti everywhere. It was super chilled, and a really good place to relax on a Sunday afternoon. Take the metro to La Latina and you’ll find it straight away – super cool, ‘edgier’ area.
  • La Bicicleta Café – Malasaña in general is one of my favourite areas of Madrid: home to the best tapas restaurants, cocktail bars and book shops. Having mentioned cocktail bars, La Bicicleta is definitely my favourite in Madrid. My usual order being the red fruits mojito, it’s definitely the best place in Madrid to people watch, drink cocktails and listen to some really good music – a mixture of Spanish and English. It’s usually filled with young people, of all different cultures, and a great place to socialise. There’s usually a long wait for a table/space, being that it is so popular, but it is definitely worth the wait.

  • El Teleférico de Madrid – Having caught the metro to Casa de Campo and walked all the way to the top of the hills to catch the teleférico (cable car) to the city centre (Templo de Debod), I can safely advise you all to not do this. In the heat, and definitely the wrong footwear, I was exhausted by the time I reached the top. But the teleférico was absolutely gorgeous, you could see the whole of Madrid, the views were stunning. I would recommend walking to the the Templo de Debod (you can navigate your way from Plaza de España metro station) and take a return journey to the top of Casa De Campo and back again – the views are incredible.
  • Casa de Campo – Speaking of Casa de Campo, how could I not include this area? Being on the same line as Casa de Campo is amazing, as if I’m ever feeling bored of the city, of business and traffic, it’s easy to escape to the somewhat countryside. Casa de Campo is almost entirely rural, with huge parks and gravel pathways allowing you to wander through the trees and escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Madrid. (I sound like a travel guide, don’t I?) But seriously, it is a super tranquil, calm area to relax. Also, the theme park and zoo of Madrid are at the bottom of the hill in Casa de Campo, so if that’s more your thing, or if you even just have a fondness for nature, this is definitely an area for you.
  • La Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes – This was one of the first places I ever visited in Madrid – the rooftop bar at el Círculo de Bellas Artes. We made the effort to visit it at sunset, and though it was extremely busy, it was absolutely stunning to watch the sunset behind the Madrid skyline. It costs €4 to go up, but it is so worth it. A popular spot for sunset watching, there are tables, sun-loungers and comfy corners to relax and watch the skies.
  • Cuatro Torres – maybe this is one of the more boring ones? But I know that when I see the Cuatro Torres, I’m home. Whether that’s coming out of Chamartín train station after a journey to another part of Spain, or landing on the runway in terminal one and just seeing the towers in the distance after a visit to England or Portugal – you know you’re back in Madrid when you see them. The four towers are made up of Torre Espacio, Torre de Cristal, Torre Pwc and Torre Cepsa. They represent the business district, wealth and overall luxuriousness of such an amazing city, and when I see them, I instantly feel at home.
  • La Rosadela de El Retiro – the Retiro in general, is one of my most favourite places in Madrid: it’s beautiful, and there is so much going on. There can be yoga in one corner, live music in another, and even birthday parties going on. But my favourite part of the Retiro (aside from the Palacio de Cristal – a must see!) is La Rosadela: the rose garden. Walking under the archways of roses into the garden thats filled with all the colours of the rainbow in rose form, fountains and lines and lines of flowers is stunning! In a cosmopolitan city that is constantly bustling, visiting the quiet of the rose garden and ambling through at your own pace is refreshing.
  • El Edificio Metrópolis – in English, the Metropolis building, is my favourite building in all of Madrid. It is the first building that stuck in my memory during my first few days of living here, I am so in love with it. You can see a beautiful view of it from La Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes which I wrote about earlier in this post. On the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía, and inspired by French architecture, it really is one of the most spectacular and famous views in Madrid.

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books

Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur

The first time I wrote about Milk & Honey was in the first ever edition of my Wishlist series, which you can read by clicking here. There was much hype surrounding the book, the implications and meanings of the poetry and almost every female within a 30 mile radius had this book in hand. Shortly after writing my wishlist post, I actually went on to buy the book. I’ve had it for a few months now, and read and re-read it I would say over ten times. I have completely fallen in love with Kaur’s prose, but I didn’t want to write a post on the book until I felt completely compelled to: until I understood the meanings and intentions behind her work, and until I felt like I could do the book justice. I think the time has come!

Firstly, I want to comment on the appearance of the book, how beautiful is the cover? I suppose it’s arguable that the book itself doesn’t affect the content: ‘do not judge a book by it’s cover’ etc, but it just looks so super pretty on my bookshelf. It had a matte black cover which feels so luxurious, and the monochrome colour scheme with a hint of honey-gold is both appropriate and gorgeous. I know it doesn’t affect the skill of Kaur’s words and the effect they have on the reader, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as a beautiful, well constructed book.

While on the topic of appearance, I’d also like to comment on the illustrations of the book. They aren’t the epitome of art; they aren’t super detailed, but they are functional, simple, and through this, become skilful and almost beautiful. The way in which the images seem to be hand-drawn almost with a ballpoint pen, makes the words even more relatable to everyday life, makes the pages adaptable to your own personal situations. Much like her words, the images are so simple that they take on their own beauty.

But now for the actual book itself: the ‘poetry.’ I quote the word ‘poetry’ because I’m not sure how far to argue that Kaur’s words do classify in this genre. Of course, the words themselves are not a novel, they do not progress into a storyline of such, but they do not seem to follow a metric, they do not form a conventional form of poetry. I’ve read much critique of Kaur’s work because of this, but isn’t this what makes the book unique, beautiful? The simplicity of her words and the uncomplicated nature of the structure, for me, is what makes the book so special. She is unapologetically brutal, she doesn’t miss a beat, and she talks of her themes with the utmost candour. For this, I have the utmost respect for Rupi Kaur. Anyone who is planning on reading this book should be aware of triggering topics such as sexual abuse and rape, topics of which she is very frank about. Her frankness and openness about such topics, are what make her a bold and incredible writer.

The book is split into four parts: The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking and The Healing. It becomes almost a process; a cycle that I’m sure every woman has experienced or will experience at least once in her life. I love every part just as much as each other but I would say that The Healing is my favourite, it’s both empowering and reassuring. Below I have left some of my favourite quotes from each section. I fully recommend purchasing this book and giving it a read, you won’t be disappointed.

The Hurting

‘A daughter should not have to beg her father for a relationship’ (28)

‘I was made heavy: half blade and half silk, difficult to forget and not easy for the mind to follow’ (30)

‘the thing about having an alcoholic parent is an alcoholic parent doesn’t exist, simply an alcoholic who could not stay sober long enough to raise their kids’ (39)

‘you tell me quiet down cause my opinions make me less beautiful, but I was not made with a fire in my belly so I could be put out’ (30)

The Loving

‘I want to be so complete I could light a whole city and then I want to have you cause the two of us combined could set it on fire’ (59)

‘You might not have been my first love but you were the love that made all the other loves irrelevant’ (63)

‘you look like you smell of honey and no pain, let me have a taste of that’ (66)

‘how do you turn a forest fire like me so soft I turn into running water’ (65)

The Breaking

‘don’t mistake salt for sugar: if he wants to be with you he will, it’s that simple’ (85)

‘I didn’t leave because I stopped loving you, I left because the longer I stayed the less I loved myself’ (95)

‘I am a museum full of art but you had your eyes shut’ (100)

‘I had to leave, I was tired of allowing you to make me feel anything less than whole’ (107)

‘You cannot leave me and have me too, I cannot exist in two places at once – when you ask if we can still be friends’ (136)

The Healing

‘Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself’ (153)

‘If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise’ (156)

‘fall in love with your solitude’ (161)

‘your body is a museum of natural disasters, can you grasp how stunning that is?’ (173)

‘the world gives you so much pain and here you are making gold out of it – there is nothing purer than that’ (185)

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travel

Saudade

saudade
saʊˈdɑːdə/
a deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent
yearnings, saudades, those sonorous fruits grown for overripe hearts”
While my time living in Portugal is over, and in fact my time living abroad is over, I miss Coimbra every single day. It was a city that grew to be my home, a place that I felt welcomed, comfortable and very much happy! The Portuguese have a word – saudade – which is used to refer to a type of yearning, a type of longing as such, which doesn’t directly translate into English. It is my favourite word of all languages, not just Portuguese, because I think the meaning it holds and its unique Portuguese nature is beautiful. During my time in Coimbra, ESN (the Erasmus network at A Universidade de Coimbra) told us ‘aprende-se dizer saudade’ (learn to say saudade). I never really understood, but now I do. I’ve learnt to say saudade, because I love Coimbra, and I miss it so much, but going back wouldn’t feel the same: it wouldn’t be the same without the season, the friends, the atmosphere. But Coimbra was and still is one of my favourite places in the world, and I want to go back and visit soon. Here are a few photographs that I took in Portugal to look back on my time spent there, as I sit in rainy old England preparing for my final year of my Bachelors Degree!

 

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travel

6 Similarities Between Madrid & Manchester

Having lived in Manchester for two years, and spent a lot of time there growing up, I would say I know the city quite well. Having lived in Madrid for five months, maybe I know it less so, but it got me to thinking how Manchester and Madrid differ, how they are alike, and what elements they have in common. When it comes down to it, there are a few ways in which the cities are similar to each other, and I thought it’d make an interesting read!

  • Unique, quirky areas: Manchester is renowned for its Northern Quarter, where you can find an edgy vintage shop selling reconditioned denim on one corner, and a cocktail bar selling drinks of all strange concoctions and creations on the opposite. Madrid has areas like this too, such as Lavapiés which is an area made up of mainly immigrants, so if you want to sample some real, authentic and extremely tasty food from differing cultures, this is definitely the place to go. There are also eccentric little cocktail bars here, not unlike the ones in La Latina. You could even take the metro to Tribunal and wander in the surrounding area, where you’ll find amazing street art similar to that of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and where, most like Manchester, you can find groups of bloggers taking photographs with the oh-so-edgiest of graffitied walls and authentic houses.
  • Football: football is such a big part of Manchester culture. Derby day is horrific for anyone who needs to pass through the city centre, use the metrolink or in fact any of the public transport systems. But theres something uniting and powerful about being apart of a football team, and in Madrid, it’s much the same as Manchester United vs. Manchester City. The city is divided into two: Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. The city experiences the same excitement and the same anticipation on match days, and it reminds me a lot of Manchester’s love for football.
  • The LGBT community: it makes my heart burst with pride to walk around Manchester and see such support for the LGBT community. It’s common to see stickers/posters and other such materials popped around the city in support of the community, and Manchester is home to one of Britain’s largest ‘Gay Villages’ – Canal Street. I love nights out on Canal Street, and similarly Madrid has Chueca, their equivalent ‘Gay Community.’ The metro station is my favourite thing, clad in all colours of the rainbow. Nights out there seem to rival that of Canal Street, and Madrid’s support and acceptance of the LGBT community is both similar to that of Manchester’s, and also heart-warming.
  • The student atmosphere: Manchester is home to six universities, plus more subject-specific college centres, and so the city is absolutely full of students. Being an undergraduate student at the University of Manchester, I can fully comply with the thousands of articles that brand Manchester as the best UK student city, the atmosphere is incredible, and also very comfortable for young people moving away from home for study. Madrid is home to at least 15 universities, some of them international, public, private: there is such a huge range. Like Manchester, the city is full of students, and gives off the same exciting, comfortable feel for both home and international students. There’s nothing quite like it.
  • Shopping: one thing I adore about Manchester? The shopping. The Trafford Centre is my saviour – it has everything I need, in one place. It even has cocktail bars, and a place to eat sushi. Literally, what more could I ask for? Aside from The Trafford Centre, Manchester city centre is unreal too: the Arndale has a Topshop superstore, and besides that, there is a huge, 5-floor Selfridges too. You couldn’t want for anything in Manchester, because everything you’ll need is there! Madrid is much the same, from Fuencarral and Gran Vía to The Style Outlets and Plaza Norte in northern Madrid, you really cannot ask for much more. Madrid is home to one of the biggest Primark superstores in Europe, and on the opposite end of the scale, you can find boutiques with handmade clothes tucked away in the streets of Tribunal. Like I said, everything you could need.
  • Food: Manchester is home to some of the most amazing food places: from Almost Famous to Home Sweet Home, from Rosso to Panama Hatty’s, whatever type of cuisine you’re looking for, Manchester has something for everyone! Madrid is much the same, as previously mentioned, Lavapiés is home to some amazing Indian restaurants, amongst other amazing cuisines. If it’s traditional, authentic Spanish tapas you’re after: visit Tribunal. And if you’re looking for a tasty brunch on a Sunday morning, Federal has eggs benedict that is worthy of rivalling that of Manchester’s Moose Coffee. You won’t be disappointed!

Disclaimer: all images, if not my own, are taken from weheartit.

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books

5 Great Books I Recently Read #2

  1. The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan: The structure of this book is something which caught my eye and part of the reason I picked it up. Written from the point of views of various students, this book is an insight into the world of high school, and an insight into the minds of the modern adolescent. Being a modern adolescent myself (although I could technically be classed as an fully grown adult now, sob!), I found the book relatable. I found the description of the high school atmosphere nostalgic: the gossip, the friendships, the arguments. It’s a book that discusses the struggles of high school but isn’t a book that dismisses them, Levithan conveys the importance and struggles of young people, and for this I think the book is brilliant.

  2. If I Stay by Gayle Foreman: I had high hopes for this book, as I’ve wanted to read it for a long time; I wasn’t let down! Truth be told, I wanted to read this book in desire for wanting to watch the film. I hate watching films that are based on a book, without reading the book, is that just me? So I picked up a used copy from a charity shop, and I loved it! The style of writing and the plot very much reminded me of ‘The Lovely Bones,’ which is a book that I’ve read over 20 times, (if you have never read this book, I highly recommend it, its super special to me!). The character development in this book is really good, and the story too is gripping. Would highly recommend!
  3. After You by Jojo Moyes: I’ll start by saying the obvious: it wasn’t as good as the first book. But I really don’t hold it against Moyes, ‘Me Before You’ was a masterpiece, and super hard to follow, and for all other soppy romance novel lovers like me, I think you’d all agree that a sequel wasn’t even really needed to this book. I say that with the greatest of intentions, because ‘After You’ was still a brilliant book. I still found myself encapsulated in the lives of the characters, which seems to be something that Moyes does really well. While I think a sequel wasn’t wholly necessary, I simultaneously think that Moyes rounded off the story of Louisa Clark’s life really well, and I’m super glad I read this book.
  4. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini: Okay, so this book was a little out of my comfort zone, I’m known for reading either as many tear-jerking, soppy romance novels as I can get my hands on, or a classic, a book from years ago which is studied in English Literature classes all over the world. But I decided to pick up this book because I’d heard it was highly acclaimed and praised as being a masterpiece. The praise wasn’t wrong, I read this in a day, and I found myself completely attached to Craig! It reminded me of ‘Girl, Interrupted’ a little bit, which is one of my favourite books and films. I liked how Vizzini took a taboo subject, and made it relatable, he wrote about suicide in such a way that it took away the fear of asking for help, as Craig did – a review on the cover of my copy says ‘this is an important book,’ and for my generation, and generations to come: it truly is.
  5. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: this book gives me vibes of ‘The Virgin Suicides’, in that the style of writing seems to be voyeuristic like that of Jeffrey Eugenides, the book is confined to one space, and we see the unfolding of events through the eyes of Cadence. The thing about this book was that it was a short read, but it was a read that had me turning page after page until an hour later, I was done. I couldn’t put it down. By the end of the novel, my jaw had hit the floor! The ending was completely unexpected! Giving an insight into both the world and the prejudice of the rich, this book truly transports you.

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travel

The Barcelona Diaries | Part Five: Park Güell

Today I post the fifth and final part of The Barcelona Diaries, and I’m even a little sad that they are over! I had the greatest time in Barcelona, even though at this point in June, my holiday to Barcelona was a little under 3 months ago! I have definitely saved the best for last, as this place was not only my favourite place that I visited in Barcelona, but possibly in the world. The beauty of Park Güell is as undeniable as the beauty of La Sagrada Família: Gaudí is a genius. I absolutely fell in love with his architecture at this point, and his style and technique was consistent with the artistic elements of La Sagrada Família.

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If you are planning on going to Park Güell, you should note that the nature reserve part of the park is open, and free to the public, but should you want to enter the central reservation of the park which contains Gaudí‘s architecture, you need to buy a ticket. You should book them in advance, online as it is quicker and easier, and much like the Sagrada Família, it saves a lot of waiting time. The ticket cost around €7 per person, and if you show your email confirmation when you arrived you will be permitted entrance. It should be noted that only 400 people are permitted into the park at a time, and so with each ticket you are given a half an hour window to enter the park (the timings are your choice).

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