I went to Las Vegas for the first time last summer with the intention of taking portraits of people with my medium format camera. It was 114 degrees outside— a type of heat that makes it feel like your eyelids are melting. As I walked up and down The Strip, taking in the people, the buildings, the billboards, I tried to grasp what Las Vegas represented within the larger American psyche.
Las Vegas' sensory overload is a thinly-veiled cover to make money off of us by providing an experience or commodity that we are led to believe is desirable and necessary. A leech disguised as a rainbow fish. What I still don't know is if everyone is in on the joke, if we know that the promises aren't real, our dreams won't come to fruition, but it stills feels good, and so worth it in the end. A collective act of suspension of disbelief is required in order to fully partake in Sin City without questioning it.
Las Vegas' inauthenticity and intentions are on display in a way we don't typically see in the U.S. anymore. Nowadays, advertising and marketing tends to take a more subtle approach when convincing us how we should feel and think, and therefore buy. Not on The Strip. A billboard for an entertainer who is supposed to be a "tough guy" can be quickly dissected — he's wearing a fake leather jacket, his tattoos aren't real, his cigarette isn't lit. In the flesh, women wearing almost nothing dot the streets and people can pose for photos with them for a pre-determined price. Some men grab the women's asses while their wives take the photos.
Perhaps by inundating us with copious amounts of food and alcohol, promises of sex and money, and lights and music that are sensorily consuming, we are being put into a stupor that diminishes our sense of free will. And maybe, especially since we're on vacation, we don't mind.
In my photos I hoped to capture the juxtaposition of the glitz and the gloom, how quickly gold can turn into something much less shiny. Ultimately, everyone is trying to make a buck, whether they are playing the slot machines, selling bottled water on the streets, wearing attention-grabbing clothing, or holding signs of desperation. Our desires don't change in Vegas, they just become more concentrated, more transparent. As I walked around, I was repeatedly told by men I passed by that I should smile more, didn't I realize, I was in Las Vegas. In order for the facade to remain intact, we all have to look like we're having a great time.