Art and Fashion #3

Photographer Alex Prager is a really hot topic on fashion blogs at the moment. I can totally understand the appeal - you've got pretty girls in pretty dresses and pretty make-up posing in California which is so trendy right now, and the vivid colours are incredible and yet the subjects, for all their beauty, seem dark and tormented. All irresistible to a 14-24yr old woman. But what I think makes Prager so interesting is that when she forays into fashion editorials and campaigns, she manages to blend 'art photography' and 'fashion photography' pretty seamlessly. The subject of whether fashion photography can be classified as 'art' is a tricky one, and so I won't go into an in-depth discussion on that (today at least), but I will look at it generally and how Alex Prager fits in.

If you look at other photographers who work both for fashion and for art's sake, they tend to divide their work into two distinct categories. Fashion photography, while being 'artistic' for sure, is commercial while art, on the other hand, is art. I guess this separation is kind of like protection for the photographer, so at least sometimes their work can be taken seriously. Juergen Teller is one fashion photographer who does art projects too. While I personally believe that most of his fashion images can be considered art, his 'art' images and his 'fashion' images are separated, and they have distinct subjects and moods. Occasionally the two categories become blurred, but when it does the photos are generally considered too abstract for a fashion magazine but not serious enough to be considered art.


Not Art:

Prager is unusual because her editorial and campaign work is almost indistinguishable from her artistic endeavors - the only giveaway being the models' weight. I guess her subject matter lends itself to 'fashion' easily - the subjects are in costume rather than just wearing clothes, and they are always role-playing an identity, much like the identity and image transformation of a fashion editorial. And because there is a focus on dressing-up and role playing, there is of course a focus on clothes.

Thankfully Prager herself doesn't seem worried about dipping into the low-brow world of fashion and as a result we get fantastic work like this editorial and accompanying short film made for W Magazine. This was the first work of Prager's I'd seen and boy was I sold! I think I started buying W after this actually - they may have a worrying attachment to celebrities and over-hype everything, but their editorials are routinely extremely excellent.

Prager also seems to have been influenced a fair bit by Cindy Sherman. You've got young women role-playing and constructing identities, cinematic angles, intriguing narratives and an always pervading dark humour. And Prager's Film Stills from Despair with Bryce Dallas Howard, while actually film stills, are a nice nod to Shulman's famous Film Stills series.

And they are of course similar because Sherman, too, forays into fashion from time to time. In the last five years alone Sherman has made work for Balenciaga, and done campaigns for Marc Jacobs and M.A.C. (which is technically beauty, not fashion but whatever). But somewhat curiously, editors and curators always omit Sherman's fashion work from retrospectives about her. Which suggests that those in the art world regard Sherman's fashion photography as something other than 'art' even though, in terms of both subject and style, her fashion photos are very similar to her other work.
Because of this, when I read that MOMA had bought a bunch of Prager's photographs I assumed that that wouldn't include any fashion images - but I was wrong! I'm pretty sure that they bought some of the photographs she did for W. Which makes everything even more complicated and leaves me with no conclusion at all really. Just thoughts, lots and lots of thoughts about what is fashion photography and what is art.

Teller's editorial photographs and Prager's Sunday series from W Magazine

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