Silver Lake Drive: Alex Prager's photographs of human melodrama and dark unsettling undercurrents

The Big Valley: Desiree, 2008 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Silver Lake Drive is a major new exhibition marking the first mid-career survey of American photographer and filmmaker, Alex Prager. Tracing her remarkably rich career over the last 10 years and taking place over two gallery floors, the show at The Photographers' Gallery encompasses over 40 photographs including her trademark, large-scale Technicolor photographs alongside her complete film works.

Prager’s distinctive works cross the worlds of art, fashion, photography and film, exposing the human melodrama and dark unsettling undercurrents that are threaded through her subject matter. Referencing the aesthetic principals of mid-twentieth century Hollywood cinema and fashion photography, as well as such photographers as William Eggleston, Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman, each of her images is packed with a multitude of emotional layers and narrative possibilities.

Her early photographs were predominantly shot on sets in Los Angeles, with carefully staged scenes further heightened by hyper-styled costumes, makeup, lighting and the use of a richly saturated colour palette, lending the images a particular dramatic intensity.

In her celebrated Crowd series, each figure is presented in sharp focus drawing attention to individual characters and stories and hinting at interior lives, separate from outward appearances. Prager often depicts spaces where people find themselves, sometimes unwillingly, in close proximity to others: streets, beaches, airport lounges, theatres. Favouring an aerial perspective, she purposefully pushes the viewer into a position of surveillance, offering an optimal viewpoint to observe the characters in her frames. Occasionally, a single figure – usually a blond ingénue that seems lifted out of a Hitchcock film, or Douglas Sirk melodrama – looks directly up at the camera revealing the theatricality of the set-up.

In her films, (which draw upon Film Noir, as well as the work of Maya Deren and Alain Resnais), women take centre stage in open-ended narratives, portraying a range of sharply contrasting emotional states – often with the camera trained in extreme close-up on their faces.

Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive exhibition opens on 15 June 2018 at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. A fully illustrated book will be published by Thames & Hudson on 14 June 2018 (£40.00). Find out more: thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

Crowd #3 (Pelican Beach), 2013 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Crowd #3 (Pelican Beach), 2013 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Orchestra East, Section B, 2016 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Orchestra East, Section B, 2016 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

The Big Valley: Eve, 2008 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

The Big Valley: Eve, 2008 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

The Big Valley: Susie and Friends, 2008 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

The Big Valley: Susie and Friends, 2008 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Anaheim, 2017 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Anaheim, 2017 © Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.