Fun and Thinking in Las Vegas

I find it surprisingly hard to write about Las Vegas. It may be tempting to describe Vegas with some beaten cliches, but the city is multifaceted and is remarkably self-contradictory. Over the next few weeks, I will try to scribble a few thoughts relating to the photographs I post, exploring different facets of Vegas. 

I have been to Las Vegas twice: once just last month and once before fifteen years ago. The strongest impression I remember form that first time was how fake the city felt. The feeling was there this time, too. After all, how else can you feel about the city where the main attractions are the replicas of the main attractions from other cities all over the world? And, while some of these replicas claim to be quite accurate and built to scale, the only thing that matters is how they look on the outside. The Doge’s Palace is just a facade for casino and shops, as is the Trevi Fountain, and the Statue of Liberty and the sphinx are probably hollow inside. I guess Las Vegas is all about the looks, anyway. 

Around the World in 80 Minutes: New York

Around the World in 80 Minutes: Paris

Around the World in 80 Minutes: Luxor

Around the World in 80 Minutes: Venice

Around the World in 80 Minutes: Rome

Yet on this visit, I think I was better prepared in terms of expectations. Rather than just rolling my eyes at how not genuine everything looks, I learned to see the whimsical side of things. For what the visual landscape in Vegas lacks in taste, it makes up in absurdity. The papier-mâché tropes may be terrible by themselves, but when jumbled together in almost random arrangements, they acquire playful and fun qualities, like pieces in a kaleidoscope make a beautiful mosaic. The picture below, I feel, sums it the best: a giant statue of a stripper and a Mexican restaurant with an over-the-top sign in a Middle Eastern town under a fake sky. Sometimes, one needs to remember to take things less seriously.

Kitschy Arrangement No. 1

Kitschy Arrangement No. 2

Kitschy Arrangement No. 3

Kitschy Arrangement No. 4

But this whimsical and kitschy side of Las Vegas is probably not long for this world. The themed casinos like Paris, Excalibur, the Venetian and Caesar’s Palace seem to be going out vogue. Some of the older ones are being torn down already, and I will not be surprised if half of the things you see in these photographs will be history in fifteen years. The spirit may survive on Fremont street, however, which always seems to be more “historic” relative to the Strip. It does not have the grandiosity and fake opulence of the strip, but there is no shortage of flashing casino signs and tacky street art. 

Fremont Street

Freemont Street

Freemont Street

Holga Special Effects

My experiments in film photography continue, and today I would like to share a few photographs taken with a humble Holga camera, taken during my recent trip to Las Vegas.

I bought this camera on eBay for less than $20, and it proved to be an exceptional value. I have done my research beforehand and knew what to expect from its plastic lens and imprecise engineering: vignetting, blur around the edges, light leaks and a few other quirks are part of the game, so I tried to compensate for that with composition and some black tape. Still, I was very impressed by how good the photographs turned out and I am looking forward to using the Holga for more projects. While they may not be perfect technically and I may be too excited to pass a fair artistic judgement on them now, they are relatively consistent in how they come out. Given the price, the ease of use and the quality of the images, I can also see why it could be a great first camera for someone interested in working with film. 

The Venetian, Las Vegas

Ceasar’s Palace, Las Vegas

Also, a Holga is very compact and rugged. It is very light and while it would not fit in the pocket, the lens does not protrude much, so it is not hard to find space for it in a purse or a camera bag. Because it is so lightweight and small, at east by medium format standards, I feel it could be a great asset both the city and the trail. And since it is mostly made out of plastic and it is so cheap, it can withstand a lot of abuse. In the future, I feel this could become my go-to tool for shooting outdoors in challenging conditions.  

Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Fremont Street, Las Vegas

On the other hand, Holga is ultimately a special effects camera. While the “periscope” effect and multiple exposures it can produce may be refreshing at times, they also could get old pretty quickly in large quantities. As this camera makes it deceptively simple to take decent pictures, it is important not to forget about the photographer’s responsibility to think about what I shoot. And to remember to take off the lens cap before clicking the shutter. 

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