At age eight, I spent the summer in the air-conditioned island of my grandparents’ Las Vegas house, a place where the city temporarily had halted its invasion of the desert. Their neighborhood streets were named for Italian villages, and the adjoining subdivision’s for Swiss hamlets, as if to emphasize the desire to escape to anywhere but here.
A century and a half ago, Las Vegas — “the meadows” in Spanish — was an oasis fed by an underground spring. It has long since dried up, and Lake Mead, supplying 90 percent of the city’s water may well follow. Yet Las Vegas was the third-fastest-growing city in America when I began this project.
Vegas is a living metaphor conjured from desert dust: the promise of a good job or a change of luck, crashing up against the Sierra Nevada range, then washing back across a nuclear test site and the harsh threat of environmental meltdown. This unlikely place, a reminder of the optimism or sheer willpower of the people who converted a desert mirage into a dream city, offers a close up and reality check on the notion that anything is possible, anywhere. Twenty-five years after my first summer there, I decided to return to the places where the hermetic subdivisions and playgrounds peter out on the multitudes who try their odds living there.
People come to Las Vegas betting that hard work guarantees a good job and home ownership, or a maybe just a lucky break. But poverty and homelessness are on the rise; no other American city has a larger gap in life expectancy between rich and poor. Some of my portraits reflect giddy optimism; some self-satisfied torpor. Other faces sunburned and tired, confess that their American dream is as dried up as the springs that once made Las Vegas green. This series grew out of that tension.
Frappant - Fragile Orte, Hamburg, 2020
Fotofestiwal Łódź - Grand Prix Exhibition, Łódź, 2019