Alex Prager: Compulsion. On view 22 colour photographs from the series, as well as the artist's new short film, La Petite Mort, with accompanying film stills. Simultaneously in the ground floor Christer Stromholm presents Les Amies de la Place Blanche, famous portraits of transvestites: a friendship started in the early 60s.
Michael Hoppen is pleased to present Compulsion, an exhibition of new work by contemporary artist Alex Prager. The exhibition will feature 22 colour photographs from the series, as well as the artist’s new short film, La Petite Mort, with accompanying film stills. The exhibition will be shown simultaneously in London, Los Angles and New York.
MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci has described Prager’s work as “intentionally loaded,” saying “it reminds me of silent movies – there is something pregnant, about to happen, a mix of desire and angst.” Prager’s new work furthers her exploration of subversive narratives through the construction of “scenes” inspired by tragedies depicted in the media and paired with emotive close-ups of eyes. The eyes, whether interpreted as belonging to the viewer or the subject, operate as a mode of investigation — an aid to decoding the scenes and implicating the viewer by provoking an emotional response.
Inspired by the photography of Weegee and Enrique Metinides, and films such as Metropolis and Un Chien Andalou, Compulsion confirms Prager’s vivid cinematic aesthetic. Unlike her previous work, however, the protagonists remain anonymous and distant. Prager’s new series investigates the complexity of observation within a society inundated by compulsive spectators, as well as the recurrent discourse in photography — that “meaning” is often derived from a multiplicity of gazes.
In addition to provocative juxtapositions, Prager manipulates the scenes through her choice of cropping, continually interrogating the truth content within photography — a trope as old as the medium itself. As artist John Baldessari has noted: “For most of us photography stands for the truth, but a good artist can make a harder truth by manipulating forms…It fascinates me how [one] can manipulate the truth so easily by the way [you] juxtapose opposites or crop the image or take it out of context.” Prager’s altered and manufactured scenes, in conjunction with the evocative eyes, remove the images from their original context and allow them to aquire new associations.
In her new short film, La Petite Mort, starring French actress, Judith Godrèche, Prager navigates the mystery of death through a woman experiencing the boundaries of her body and those of this world. Prager’s La Petite Mort declares that “the act of dying, and the act of transcendent love, are two experiences cut from the same cloth - the former a grand exit, and the latter a slow escape. Indeed, many of the world’s greatest poets have long considered a passionate interlude as man’s closest moment to seeing god.” The film features music by composer Ali Helnwein and Director of Photography Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Iron Man, Requiem for a Dream).
Les Amies de la Place Blanche
“These are images from another time… These are images of people whose lives I shared… These are images of women – biologically born as men- that we call ‘transsexuals’. As for me, I call them ‘my friends of Place Blanche’. This friendship started here, in the early 60s and it still continues.” Christer Strömholm, 1983.
Christer Strömholm (1918-2002), born in Stockholm, is a prominent figure in the history of Swedish photography. His pictures from the early fifties consist of sharply focused black and white compositions of walls, shadows and clear-cut interiors. While periodically living in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s he developed a style more in tune with street-photography and it was at this time that he made his famous portraits of transvestites and transsexuals at the Place Blanche. This particular oeuvre of work was massively progressive, documenting a marginalised group of society who did not fit into the social strata of Paris at the time.
This April the Michael Hoppen Gallery is delighted to be exhibiting images from Strömholm’s eminent body of work Les Amies de la Place Blanche. These famous portraits of transvestites depict individuals living on the periphery of society, enduring ‘the roughness of the streets,’ however there is a delicacy and poignancy that emanates from Strömholm’s portraits in contrast to their gritty setting. In his book of the same title, Strömholm describes this intimate collection of pictures as memoires of his daily life, taken whilst living in Pigalle, as he immersed himself in the lifestyle of these ‘night birds’.
Strömholm settled in the same hotels as his subjects, adopted their rhythms, their private environments, shared their early afternoon breakfasts and was even present on the streets as they solicited clients. This closeness and the tenderness he felt towards his subjects is always evident in his beautifully composed pictures; he did not judge his subjects and there is an palpable sense of respect for his ‘friends of Place Blanche.’ The softness of the images is key, Strömholm shot mostly at nighttime always using ambient light, and unlike Brassai, he found using flash was too intrusive. The overall effect is that the pictures have a sumptuous and suggestive quality mirroring the people in the frame. At the heart of these photographs, is the search for self-identity, an innately human quest that allows the viewer to connect with the subjects and share the perspective of the photographer. This ability is surely the sign of a great image maker.
Image: Michael Hoppen, La Petite Mort, Film Still #3, 2012
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