Driving from Death Valley to Las Vegas, I pass through the strange town of Pahrump, NV. As I approach one of the town’s main intersections, I spot a structure that appears to be made out of spare parts from the toy castle hotel where I’m staying in Vegas (The Excalibur). As I pass by I look over and see the sign: “The Kingdom Men’s Club” (!). I quickly decide to make a stop in Pahrump. →
I park across the street in the lot for the podiatrist and Remax Realty. The Kingdom appears to be open for business, but just a few cars around. I’m shooting it, but cautious. It looks like the kind of place Tony Soprano would hang out if he was in town. I’m trying to avoid detection by the video cameras outside, so I don’t go as close as I might like. One can only imagine what goes on inside the place. →
As I continue shooting, my feeling of amusement gives way to one of uneasiness. The Kingdom is creeping me out, I admit it. Perhaps it’s the site, Pahrump’s relative isolation in the Nevada landscape, etc. I wonder if the Kingdom thing goes beyond just the architecture. I can’t help conflating the cheap architectural fantasy with the actual place and what I imagine to be the very dismal proceedings within. In the end I am left with a vague feeling of shame for everyone involved. Should this ‘everyone’ include me too? ◊
Images & Text © 2010, 2011 Mark Luthringer
I recently returned from a trip to the Las Vegas area, where my base of operations was that pinnacle of Lego Castle architecture, the Excalibur Hotel and Casino. It was 26/night off peak, though they do their sneaky best to get your money in other ways.
The Excalibur has an especially surreal aura resulting from the fact that it mimics not merely a castle, but a toy castle. I think the design team may have included a group of third grade boys. The Lego thing is of course just laid over the usual rectangular cinder block volumes of brutal scale.
The Excalibur’s closest neighbors are the Luxor (giant pyramid, Mies-from-Egypt theme), Mandalay Bay (Polynesian Trumpian), and New YorkNew York. The MGM is diagonally across the strip and thus may as well be 1/2 a mile away. Surprisingly, poor weather prevented me from venturing further up the strip on this trip.
Despite my distaste for the place itself, I am utterly fascinated by Las Vegas. From the hypothetical passerby’s standpoint, it’s a horror show, site of the some of the most appalling and annoying behavior control anywhere. But visually speaking, the surreal, the symbolic, the epic and the absurd are everywhere in almost overwhelming abundance. Frame up something remarkable, take a few steps or look in the other direction, and there’s something equally remarkable.
Among my goals for this trip was to explore Vegas and, hopefully, define my response to it. I see it as an epic subject, the leading edge of a slow-motion societal train wreck with, appropriately enough, incredible visuals. The challenge is to go beyond simply partaking of the visual feast, to somehow convey what it means to me.
This has led me back to one of my earliest photographic approaches, shooting people on the street, a la Garry Winogrand. Except this time, I’ll be able to apply the power of digital collecting and a typological approach to it. This work will be the subject of an upcoming post. Other upcoming Vegas trip posts will cover: an excursion to Death Valley, my impressions of the new City Center, my infatuation with Primm, NV, and one especially notable subject found in Pahrump, NV.