Prager’s Simi Valley shares strong compositional similarities with Robert Frank’s Trolley, New Orleans, and Canal Street, New Orleans, two images from his seminal photobook The Americans (1958). A masterwork of the 20th Century, Trolley depicts the alienation and deep-seated racism of 1950s America as captured by the unassuming yet ever-incisive eye of the Swiss émigré. The wall of windows between the subjects and the viewer imparts a sort of “otherness” to the trolley riders in Frank’s photograph. Prager borrows this device and combines it with her trademark cinematic flair. Both Simi Valley and Trolley, New Orleans, function as a series of small portraits—pictures within pictures.
Just as Frank harnessed the unique characteristics of 35-millimeter black-and-white photography to elicit blur, tilt, and graininess in his photographs, Prager exploits Photoshop to create her own style of staged reality. Prager has said, ‘It is like painting. . . in the sense that I’ll shoot everything in camera, on film, nothing’s created later on Photoshop. So the components are all filmed, and then I’ll use Photoshop as a tool to take those components and marry them all into one frame.’ Frank’s New Orleans, Canal Street, depicts pedestrians on a busy sidewalk compressed into an impossibly flat plane. Similarly, the pedestrians in the lower portion of Simi Valley were arranged purposely by Prager. Alone yet nearly colliding with one another, Prager’s subjects are concerned with only themselves. In Prager’s 21st century tableaux-vivant, we are drawn into a scene of isolation by all-American symbolism of Coca-Cola bottles and bright costume-like clothing.
Another print of Simi Valley is in the collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. A print of this important image has never before appeared at auction.
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