Sophie, from the series Week-End, 2009 © Alex Prager / courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.
Alex Prager was selected from more than 100 nominees by a jury that included Simon Baker of the Tate, Darius Himes from Radius Books and photographer Viviane Sassen among others.
Now in its sixth year, the Foam Paul Huf Award gives the opportunity to a photographer to work in residence in Amsterdam, culminating with an exhibition at the Foam museum. Previous winners include Pieter Hugo, Alexander Gronsky, Leonie Hampton-Purchas, Mikhael Subotzky and Raphaël Dallaporta.
Prager, which BJP featured in September 2010, will see her work exhibited from 31 August to 14 October. "Alex Prager's work is original, intelligent and seductive," says Baker. "She thoroughly deserves her place in the company of former Foam Paul Huf winners, which is fast becoming a who's who of contemporary photographic practice."
The jury also awarded a special mention to runner-up Noémie Goudal, "whose work stood out for its complex treatment of form, structure, landscape and environment."
In an interview with BJP in September 2010, Prager, who is represented Yancey Richardson in New York, and has worked for magazines such as Tank, W and i-D, said: "I do editorial if it seems interesting or if it chimes with a project I've been thinking about. That way we both get what we want. I have a list of ideas I want to work on, some of which are more difficult to produce than others. They tend to be the shoots I suggest because I need the extra help."
The extra help comes in the form of hair, make‑up and stylists, and although Prager keeps the numbers to a minimum, she's happy to work in a team. Clothes are an important aspect of her work, she said and, although she has been collecting vintage for years, she has no problem with including contemporary pieces that the stylist brings along. In fact, she added, high-end fashion often has a slightly retro, off-kilter style that fits her aesthetic well. "I grew up in LA, where the architecture, the cars and the whole environment is a mixture of styles from the 1950s, 60s and 70s through to modern day," she said. "It feels very natural to me."
Eve, from the series Big Valley, 2008 © Alex Prager / courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.
Prager was inspired to take up photography by an exhibition of William Eggleston's colour work, and colour remains an important factor in her images. Always bright and sometimes almost psychedelic, her photographs are shot on Kodak Portra colour negative film with a Contax or Mamiya 645. The clothes help, she said, because outfits from the 1960s and 70s are much brighter than what we wear now, and she also shoots outside in the bright West Coast light, sometimes adding reflectors and a flash. She also works on the images in post-production, pumping up the intensity to make them even more super-saturated.
But while her process is important, she said it's less crucial than the concept for the final image, and she also puts little emphasis on who she's originally shot for. Some art collectors and curators are still wary of images shot for editorial, but to her it's pretty much irrelevant. "A picture is a picture," she added. "If you shoot a good photograph and it's seen by millions of people [in a magazine] that's no bad thing. I've always been interested in fashion photographers such as Guy Bourdin and Steven Meisel, and I also like [contemporary photographers] Mert & Marcus and Sølve Sundsbø's work. To me, these photographers are artists."
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