The tragedies captured on camera here may appear real – a timber home ravaged by fire, a woman lying inert over the strut of a power pylon – but in fact these dramatic sights have been constructed by the American photographer Alex Prager as part of her series "Compulsion", with which she aims to explore our responses to tragedy.
Prager was inspired by the effect that disasters shown in the media were having on her. "I could watch something terrible happen in the news, then watch a similar scene from a movie, and feel the same way," she explains. "That felt incredibly disturbing to me." Her emotional disconnect from the real-life tragedies inspired the Los Angelino to recreate some of the scenes, mostly using scale models – from a house sinking into an inky black abyss to an abandoned car or a wayward boulder suggestive of something gone terribly wrong.
What, then, are the adjacent eye images for? "I felt too disconnected when examining the 'scenes' on their own," says Prager, "so I felt it needed an added emotional aspect." And what better conduit through which to engage us than that of the eye, which the photographer believes will allow us to reconnect with our desensitised emotions. "I took photos of the eyes of friends, my dry cleaner, subjects I found through ads on [classifieds site] Craigslist, and matched them with scenes I felt worked best."
The result is both a striking graphic juxtaposition and an innovative way to engage with these images' significance. For even if these viewers are not looking at the same tragedies as us, by staring into their eyes – the oft-philosophised window to the soul – an emotional connection is engendered within us.
Alex Prager: Compulsion runs until 26 May at Michael Hoppen Gallery, London SW3 (michaelhoppengallery.com), where her short-film debut, 'La Petit Mort', will also be on view