Observations: Surreal and sinister images of life in the shallows of Los Angeles

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The Independent Online

It's not just the way people look in LA," explains Alex Prager, of the town where she grew up, "there's this whole surface way of life here that doesn't feel like it goes any deeper than the parties, the implants and the bleached-out hair. There are so many things that look amazing, but where's the part of life that makes you feel grounded as a person?"

It's this theme of Hollywood artificiality that the 30-year old photographer is exploring in her new exhibition Week End, which opens at London's Michael Hoppen Gallery on 10 June. The images, all simply named after the girls in them, are highly staged, glossy portraits that resemble film stills. Full of wigs, fake eyelashes and vintage outfits, the models (who are mostly her friends) look surreal and a little other-worldly.

There's Maggie, her face like a porcelain doll, floating in the middle of a lake having abandoned her bag and shoes on the side; Deborah, looking like a poster girl for the 1950s, smoking, with the shot taken through the back of the car that she's leaning on. and Rachel and friends, looking somehow odd, sitting in the cinema with their popcorn and snacks.

"I look at these old movies from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties and the lighting and hair and make-up is always perfect," Prager says. "There's that little bubble of glamour that they used to have in melodramas. They were about murder and crime but it was alright for kids to watch that stuff because it was done in glamorous and over-the-top ways. I really like that aesthetic – it allows me to say a lot more in the photos. There's something more sinister going on".

Prager, who has not had any formal photography training – "I wasn't patient enough to sit through four years of classes; all I wanted to do was get started making the pictures in my head" – and didn't discover her love of photography until she was 20, has just been selected as one of three photographer's for MoMA's annual New Photography show in September in New York.

michaelhoppengallery.com; alexprager.com