In this series, Jack Minto documents the poverty stricken and deprived area that many displaced and disenfranchised locals call their home in Las Vegas - a city that for so long represented the idyllic promises of the American dream and quickly became a representation of America's stark contrast of wealth and poverty. This project grew from his concern with social issues and the communities that are effected by them. He spent a month living in Vegas, in an attempt to create a body of work that opposed external perceptions of Las Vegas as a solely luxurious and touristic city. His hope was that the work could create conversations about income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. and highlight the fact that wealth and poverty sit side by side in American society.
How did you find Maryland Parkway and how much time did you end up spending there?
I went to Las Vegas to pursue a project that ended up being somewhat opposite of how the project turned out. What drew me to Vegas was my preconceived notion of this exuberant, excessive and luxurious city, and how it sat in contradiction to the barren, desolate landscape in which it’s located.
I stayed in a hostel for one month at one end of Maryland Parkway, a road that runs parallel two miles east of the Las Vegas strip. I was using a lab to develop my film at the other end of Maryland Parkway, so walking up and down this road was a regular occurrence. Each time I’d visit the lab, I’d stumble across these fascinating characters who, more often than not, were homeless and called the road their home. I found myself far more interested in these people, their lives and how poverty sat in such close proximity to the Las Vegas strip. Maryland Parkway became an anchor to the series.
Do you know the names for some of the people you photographed? Did you get to learn much about them? Their occupations? Their hobbies?
I tried to find out as much as I could about the people I was photographing. One person in particular springs to mind. Maryland Parkway was littered with these pages ripped from newspapers that were held under rocks. They were covered in handwritten political messages in black sharpie that mostly referred to the conflict between Israel and Palestine but also showed discontent for the Bush administration and war crimes in Iraq. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and seeing this figure sitting in the corner with a big stack of newspapers, writing away. He told me his name was Jimmy, that he’d been in Vegas for decades, and that his life aim was to help others realize the corruption of government. I photographed him against the fence of an unused lot (something I saw quite regularly on Maryland Parkway), he’s wearing a shirt that says ‘Occupy Wall Street’ on the front and on the back it reads ‘Facebook President of the World’, I searched this as a tag on Instagram and none the less, there he was.
Do you have an English accent? If so, Did your subjects react much to it? I guess I'm really wondering how your subjects embraced you as a photographer - if they trusted you or not.
I’m Welsh actually but I don’t think it’s prominent in my accent. What surprised me was how my British accent wasn’t surprising to most folks I encountered. Considering this area had little reason to be visited by most foreigners who travel to Las Vegas, I didn’t stick out as much as I thought I would. Carrying around a bulky medium format camera however did spout some interest. Everyone that I spoke to was very helpful and more than happy to tell me their stories.
What is your favorite thing about Maryland Parkway?
7-Elevens every 50 metres that sold these massive cans of beer that I don’t think you can get in the UK.
What does Maryland Parkway smell like?
I wish I could give this slick answer to what Maryland Parkway smells like metaphorically but i’m not very good at that. In the literal sense, Maryland Parkway smelt of hot tarmac.
Do you also enjoy the strip? And did the residents of Maryland Parkway frequent it or do they steer clear?
I went to the strip twice towards the end of my visit. It was very surreal as Trump had only been elected a few days prior and I was expecting to see something about it or overhear people talking about it, but it seemed these four miles of casinos and mega resorts were detached from the world outside. I photographed a man who was juggling solvent cans on the side of the road, he told me he used to be a bartender at the Hard Rock hotel but lost his job and had been homeless for a while. I think that as the strip is such a big focal point of the city and provides lots of jobs, I imagine it’s difficult for it not to be a part of the lives of many Las Vegas locals.
As a photographer, how was this shoot different from your many other projects?
With this project, my interaction with those I was photographing was brief in comparison to other projects I’ve worked on. I made a small body of work that documented the day to day of a transgender woman - I got to know her well and we’d chat about ideas, trans issues and my intentions for the project… but with ‘Maryland Parkway’ I was limited by the time I had there and only photographed those I came across by chance encounter. So the process was very different, but I think the pressure of having no idea how it would turn out pushed me out of my comfort zone and as a result, approaching people about what I was doing
images courtesy of JACK MINTO
interview ASHLEY MUNNS
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