If I had to choose a favorite photographer right now, it would be Alex Prager. Why? This self-taught LA photographer understands how to create ambiguous narrative.
Ambiguous narrative is a structure where an artist sets up a scene with enough detail so an observer can begin pulling together a story but not enough information for a definitive conclusion to be made. For ambiguous narrative structure to work, an artist must lure a viewer into the work and hope that their imaginations run away with themselves. That interaction completes the work itself.
Ambiguous narratives’s more common name is “airport people watching.” When we are at airports, we have a stable of people, their clothes, luggage, and itinerary to visually sift through. Because of these details, we can quickly start developing stories about their lives and destinations. Our entertainment is in the fabrication of their lives.
Prager’s lush color photos with girls in mid-whisper and homes ablaze tempt our imagination and our inclination to make stories out of half-truths, but this structure is hardly new.
The 17th century painter Georges de la Tour is famous for his plot-like scenes littered with cheats, scoundrels, confessors and disbelievers, where the longer you stare at the painting, the more complicated his situations become. 20th century Rene Magritte in his detached, surrealist style begs you to answer the question: why are those people kissing with a bag over their heads and contemporary photographer, Cindy Sherman, made her career in taking photos “mid-scene” providing the same effect.
Prager’s work relies on our inner curiosity about others, but I don’t want to mistake that curiosity with empathy. Prager’s models – tanned, coiffed, and visually perfect even in their eccentricity – are not asking us to empathize with them. In fact, Prager wants us to jealous of them.
Standing before a Prager I feel like the unpopular girl spying on the others, jealous that I am not part of the clique. I see the girl standing by the side of the road, the woman eating ice cream while wearing a prosthetic leg or a burning house, and I have the power to choose the story. I control the gossip about to spread throughout school. The question is: in my jealousy over what I do not have, will I be kind or cruel?
Alex Prager lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Her works are held in collection at institutions including: Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
M+B Gallery (Los Angeles, California)
Michael Hoppen Gallery (London, UK)
Yancey Richardson Gallery (New York, New York)
More information can be found at her website: here.