Alex Prager always knew she wanted to be an artist, but the idea of a career as a photographer came much later. At 21, she happened upon a William Eggleston exhibit at the Getty Museum in L.A. Within a week of seeing the show, Prager had bought a professional camera and darkroom equipment. Over the next couple of months, she taught herself how to take pictures and develop them. Now, at 32, the L.A.-based phtog's images -- mostly of women, bathed in bright colors and possessing an eerie, '50s-era nostalgia -- have landed her at the MoMA, as part of the museum's "New Photography 2010" group show, which closes Jan. 10th.

Jayme Cyk: I read you used to dress up your friends in wigs and extravagant clothing before shooting them; do you still do this?

Alex Prager: I still use my friends in shoots, yes. I also have gotten into the habit more recently of hiring extras from casting agencies. That's mainly for my bigger shoots though, like when the idea calls for 50 people in the shot.

JC: Your subjects are women adorned and surrounded by elaborate colors. What's been the driving force behind this aesthetic?

AP: I am inspired by my surroundings. I live mostly in Los Angeles, so this has had a deep influence on my work. I want people to be able to feel some sort of personal connection when looking at my pictures. Whether it's just a passing feeling or a profound realization ... Any kind of stirring of the emotional pot is fine with me. I think there's a lot going on in the world to be emotional about.

JC: Did you ever expect to make it into the MoMA at such a young age?

AP:  Well, I surely dreamt about it! What artist hasn't? Yes, in my dreams, I was always much, much older. But in my dreams I suppose I always dreamt of having a solo show at the MoMA, so that's something I can still wish for!

JC: Tell me how your recent short film, Despair, starring Bryce Dallas Howard, came about?

AP: I decided to make Despair after my exhibit, "The Big Valley," went up in London in 2008. The idea came about when people kept coming up to me asking what happened just before or after one of my photos. I thought it would be fun to show people that. Despair is my take on the before, during and after of one of my photographs.

JC: Your photos have appeared in W and many other publications. Would you consider yourself a fashion photographer?

AP: I consider myself an artist. It doesn't really make a difference in what medium my work is shown.

JC: Who inspires you?

AP: Weegee, Brassai, Arbus, Joel Sternfeld, Eggleston, Guy Bourdin, Helmet Newton, Fellini, Godard, Hitchcock and countless others.

JC: What's next for Alex Prager?

AP: That is a secret.