Alex Prager has always been fascinated by the anxiety and excitement of crowds. For her new series, “A Face in the Crowd,” she hired hundreds of extras, dressed them in vintage clothes, and staged them walking through the streets, going about their day. The video and photographs in this series are shot from an omniscient angle, creating a sense of loneliness and detachment from the subjects. The three-screen video also captures the extras doing confessional monologues, some real and some fictive.
WHITEWALL: Your photographs feature elaborately staged crowd scenes with hundreds of extras. How much direction did you give to the extras and actors?
ALEX PRAGER: I’m working in every department – casting, hair, makeup, costumes, set design, score, editing – to get the photographs and films to look and feel a certain way. I can control that as much as I want. The people we dress up as these characters bring their own unpredictable energy, as well as just the fact that when one is shooting a crowd there’s no way to control every aspect of it, which is exciting. In post-production I’ll see little magical moments that had occurred on set that I didn’t notice at the time, and I’ll pick those out and make sure they end up in the final frame. I’d say it’s really a marriage of spontaneous moments existing in a completely staged world.
WW: I read that you started the Face in the Crowd series because you had anxiety about speaking in public and a fear of crowds. How did doing this affect your anxiety? Did it help?
AP: My fear and anxiety was only one influence on this body of work. I find crowds mesmerizing and there is a heightened emotional dynamic of crowds that I wanted to explore. Creating this series gave me a better understanding of my own relationship with these kinds of environments. In any case, I learned that my interest in shooting crowds was greater than my fear of them.
WW: The images evoke, but do not necessarily conform to a vintage aesthetic. What was your reason for staging the scenes and costuming the actors to look slightly retro?
AP: I wanted to use clothing and props from several different eras, so that the scene feels familiar, but the viewer can’t quite place the time or location.
WW: You say your work is meant to convey a world that “synthesizes fiction and reality.” Can you tell me more about this idea?
AP: By moving between reality and fiction, I think the work creates an intricate sort of middle zone, that allows me to explore any idea I choose, but with more freedom since I’m not depicting reality exactly. I think I need to create this parallel universe in order to produce exactly what I’m striving for.
WW: The subjects of these images seem disconnected from the camera and alienated from their surroundings. What would you say the ambience behind this series is meant to express?
AP: I feel there is a connection between these works and how we communicate in today’s culture. We are more connected than ever through technology and various other means, but the quality of our relationships has been affected by changing technology, so in many ways we are more disconnected from one another. I wanted to convey that feeling, which I think is heightened within a crowd.
WW: Your new exhibit also features a film starring Elizabeth Banks, Face in the Crowd. How did you come to work with her?
AP: Elizabeth reached out to my producer after I made Despair. She said that she wanted to work with me if there was a project she’d be right for. When I came up with the idea to do Face in the Crowd, I thought instantly of Elizabeth. She was available, and she fit perfectly for this film as I wanted the character to feel un-intimidating, familiar, and beautiful. In addition to to all that, she’s a great actress and lovely to work with.
“A Face in the Crowd” ison view at both Lehmann Maupin locations through February 22, 2014.