“24 Hour Fun” reads a sign in Las Vegas. “That’s okay if you’ve got 24 hour money!” says my friend who I’ve been travelling to Vegas with virtually every year since 1995. We missed the odd one, but then in some years we went twice. You either love it or hate it, my bank manager hates it by the way! I think that once you accept that the whole place is a mirage, a shiny plastic neon lit facade where often things aren’t what they appear then it grows on you. Those billion dollar hotels weren’t built to create winners (apart from the owners) and so you also have to get to grips with the fact that you aren’t going to win. We always stay "Downtown", they can keep the "Strip", in fact I haven't been up to visit the Strip for around 6 or 7 years. Someone once said to me that if you keep going Downtown eventually you'll get stabbed or shot or both. Well, around two or three visits ago there were two shootings up on the Strip and only one body found in a laundry shoot Downtown - twice as safe Downtown I'd say!
They say “Fun” and I suspect there is an element of that. I’ve certainly had some laughs over the years, but walk into any casino and see the faces, most will look glum, a grim determination not to loose too much, recognising the reality of gambling for day after day when the odds are stacked fairly heavily in favour of the House. The realisation that the “Free” beer they gave you at the poker table just cost $100. However there is a system if you know it; not "a" system, but "the" system. Make yourself known to a Casino Host and get “rated”. They monitor your gambling, not how much you loose or win, but how long you’re at a table or machine in the absolute knowledge that the odds dictate the longer you’re playing the more likelihood you will loose (house advantage). You’d be surprised at the amount of people who don’t know about “comps”, the result is we rarely pay for a meal, our rooms for the week are no charge and there's those free drinks whilst you’re playing (I prefer the term Working!). Don't forget to tip, after all we are in the "Land of the Fee"! I try to stick with card games, but sitting at a bar playing Video Poker (the crack cocaine of gambling) is a such a lure. Before we move on to photography here's a couple of shots of my friend who is full of useful quotes, has read every book known to man on Vegas and gambling, is intelligent, sane and relatively normal in every way and yet the Vegas effect takes hold minutes after landing at McCarran International...
The human condition at its worst and sometimes best is on show daily, every minute of those 24 hours. It is a city of contrasts and we’re not talking the light and shadow of photography, amongst all that glitz and glam there are some sorry sights, people who have hit rock bottom. I’ve always said that Vegas has an eclectic mix of people and it draws more than it's share of those who for whatever reason wish to run away, start a new life, a bit like the Circus, mostly made up of clowns though. I’ve mentioned in this blog before that I don’t like taking photos of the vulnerable in society. Many reasons why I believe it’s wrong, chiefly they’re easy targets for photographers wanting “likes” on social media. Another is that these people have families who may well be totally unaware of their loved one's current situation and they possibly don’t want them to know, imagine the shock when someones father or brother is shared on Facebook slumped in a puddle of their own urine. In Vegas it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the difference between the homeless, gamblers having a tough time, drunks, drug addicts or those sartorially challenged. It's a fine line. If any appear here it will be from a distance, believe me if you wanted to take portraits of the vulnerable you'd have a queue forming, they see you with a camera and offer a "photo opportunity", once a deal is struck of course....I declined many times.
I walk every morning for an hour or so, a similar route - Main Street, Fremont Street, down to Sixth Street and back along Ogden to where I was staying on this particular trip "Main Street Station". Back to knowing about the system, you also need to know your camera if you're working on the fly. I'm set at f/11, around 1/500th or over, ISO 1000 or over to maintain shutter speed. Also focussing is set to hyperfocal on the 35mm, it's quicker than any autofocus, I wrote about that here- Hyperfocal. My only concern is exposure, so there's a little bit of fiddling around, the light, particularly in Fremont Street with it's canopy, can be tricky. When we visit Vegas there is always a lot of discussion beforehand about what we might go and see, of course we never see anything, a holiday routine soon sets in and there's a preference to see a casino floor rather than any sights! For example, I always say that I'm going to visit the Mob Museum, literally minutes from any Downtown hotel I've stayed in. I never do, it's become a standing joke. Here's a shot as I walked past it yet again -
One day I'll go in and have a look around. Besides we saw most of the must see stuff back in the nineties, it hasn't changed that much surely. Well, in 1995 the population of Las Vegas was around 300,000, now it's 650,000. Clark County was 950,000 and now it's 2.25 million! Add an estimated 40 million visitors...let's just say it's not some small desert town -
Those were taken from the hotel, here's a couple more, because we all mess around taking shots in the bedroom especially in Vegas where we try not to venture out of the room and meet certain financial doom -
Let's have a look at some of the people, there's a lot of life out there. I've tried to include the surroundings as much as possible to for the viewer to get a feel for the place. You'll also notice that colour seems to be more prevalent in this blogpost. I love Black & White, but the light and colours don't always translate well. Colour shows more realism perhaps, it's how we see and interpret the world. B & W is more surreal and I think often simplifies an image which can be a huge advantage if you're trying to convey a feeling or emotion. There's no right or wrong, digital photography allows us the choice. I often see a photographer post both Colour and B & W versions of a photo on Social Media stating that they can't quite decide which is best, of course people will then comment and offer "their" opinion, utterly pointless (just like gambling) because ultimately the decision has to be made by the photographer. Great minds (apparently) think alike; My friend Jeff Chane-Mouye just wrote a blog about it, here's the link and here's an example from me -
I prefer the Black & White here. The reds are nice, but they subtract from the photo and B & W tidies the whole scene up. Let's have a look at a few more, this time in colour that I think work only in colour. I don't want to swamp you with photos so we'll present in a small grid, followed by another grid because they follow a sort of theme or were taken in a certain area. This might turn into "24 Hours of Photos" if I'm not careful, but I thought I'd get them out in one blog rather than Part 1...Part 2 etc. Anyway, I'll try not to write too much now, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? -
A few more. These from a restaurant billing itself as Heart Attack. If you weigh over 350 Lbs you get to eat for free, of course if you haven't any money and consequently are way underweight, well, it's a crazy mixed up world, I think they call it irony. I have no idea what that "nurse" is doing with that brush, perhaps one of the customers exploded -
Crossways or any road crossing are always good place to take photographs -
A lot of Red going on. You can see that on the second shot I've been spotted -
There's more and we haven't got to the Black & White yet! Perhaps a two part blog may have been a better idea! A few characters form Downtown, space cadets mostly and the obligatory cop -
It's okay, here's Elvis -
Get a hat, get ahead -
I'm moving on to the Black & White shots now, if you've endured thus far then I can tell you we're nearly at the end. Some of these will be presented individually because I think they deserve it. The photo below was created because I had the idea that this view would be great for some kind of tableaux image, I visited everyday hence the other two images and never managed to get what I wanted, next time perhaps -
Some more and yet again I've been spotted. The pit bosses on a cigarette break didn't look happy!
Interesting how in a state where you can walk around legally with a concealed weapon suspicious eyes are constantly on you. Isn't there something in the constitution that gives a right to bear cameras? We discussed the the 2nd Amendment at great length on this trip, firstly with some kind of white supremacist we endured on the plane down from Chicago and amongst ourselves, my friend concluded that if they want to adhere to an 18th century law to bear arms then give them all muskets, ban everything else. None of our business I know.
Almost there, as I said my initial thoughts were to involve the environment, also incorporating some people and light -
I've mentioned before the doctrine of Sam Abell, one of the best photographers ever in my opinion. The "system" in this case is to wait it out, find your scene and stay there until something happens, be patient. So with that in mind I made my way to a spot that has a building covered in a beautiful piece of art and I know the light is good there in the morning. I looked at it a couple of years ago, but couldn't get what I needed. Here's my first couple of attempts -
Surprisingly not many people walked past this place. In the end I saw a couple of guys crossing an intersection and kept my fingers crossed that they'd turn right and walk past the building. They did, then turned around and went back to the crossing - no reason behind their actions, just lucky for me -
Okay, thanks for enduring this marathon blogpost. I'm going to leave you now with a couple of pictures that for me sums up this years Vegas trip. It's one of my wife leaving me as I told her how much I lost because there isn't "a system"...just kidding...hopefully! The first is not quite focussed (a bit like the photographer), not by any means perfect, but I liked it and him. Guitar slung over his back, a pair of scissors in hand, using a mirror outside a casino to trim his hair, keeping up appearances no matter what -
The second I think shows the eternal optimism that is often displayed in Vegas. Again I know it's not a sensational shot, but the guy singing never gave up, I passed him most days. At this point someone clearly down on his luck walks past, he still managed to lift that foot before having a little dance routine....I didn't expect that foot to lift and found it extremely funny and totally endearing, bitter sweet....Viva Las Vegas -
As usual I would be delighted to read any comments and my sincere thanks go to anyone taking the time to read my blog.
All images can be opened by clicking on the thumbnails and are taken using a Leica M with a Summicron 35mm lens fitted.
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