This was a series of photographs that I worked on for my Digital Photography class in my first year. The assignment was to introduce 5 objects from any found or self-taken photographs into a setting to create a believable (though possibly surreal) image. Basically it was testing us on our abilities to manipulate the images by merging them, adding shadows/highlights, etc.
At the time, I was obsessed with how there was so much hype surrounding a self-taught photographer named Alex Prager, who is lauded for her combination of influences from cinematic melodrama and fashion photography. Websites call her “great”, “amazing”, “epic”, and “original”. She was even featured in a show at the MoMA entitled New Photography 2010. I found that ironic considering I saw clear similarities between her work and that of two famous “older” photographers, William Eggleston (colour palette) and Cindy Sherman (use of female figures in filmic situations). In a discussion with my art history professor and some classmates, we also saw similarities between her work and that of Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall. At times, these similarities extended to outright copying of certain tones, compositions, and concepts.
Yet, the few descriptions of her work that I could find, including the one on the MoMA website in relation to the show, fail to acknowledge these relationships between their photographs. At most, there was one interview with her that mentioned how William Eggleston had inspired her to be a photographer. This article on the Huffington Post tries to argue for the differences between her work and Cindy Sherman’s, but yet ends up revealing the weakness of her argument through her own side-by-side comparisons. I know that there’s no such thing as originality, but when you’re not even recognising clear links between artists’ works, there is something inherently wrong with that – as if you’re trying not to mention it so that people will not suspect anything. She is not that bad a photographer – in fact, I actually enjoy looking at some of her more fashion-oriented works – she is just not as “original” and “amazing” as people think she is.
Instead of creating an image with 5 additional objects in them, I negotiated to do a series of 5 photographs made up of two photos – one of Alex Prager’s photographs, and one of either William Eggleston’s or Cindy Sherman’s (my professor even gave me a high-five when I declared that I hate Prager’s work). This series aims to expose how much she heavily relies on their works to elevate her own, and more so, the way the art world can be so intentionally blind sometimes.