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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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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