Notes on a Las Vegas Photo Essay

November 3, 2020

by Mikayla Whitmore: hold the mayo, thank you

Las Vegas is changing. Again. Our treasured links and what should be historical sites are left unprotected to be bought, dismantled, and bulldozed down without any warning or farewell extended to those residing here. It’s hard to be nostalgic when home is always reinventing itself, but over time a slight comfort and resiliency from those who stay prevails.

Even though I have called Las Vegas my home for thirty-two years, my relationship and physicality have been vastly different in the past eleven months than all the years prior. I do not wander about as much and shy away from large social gatherings. The access to being around and close to strangers, places, and things suddenly rescinded, in part by choice and circumstance.

A classic lunch special built from memory using modeling clay. Shrimp cocktail, crackers, lemon wedge, cocktail sauce, Keno ticket.

This photo essay is comprised of found moments and a few intricately built sets featuring some of the classic food staples in Las Vegas. Despite the city’s steady change, one thing always remained a constant within the 24/7 workday; there was always breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whether eating together as a family or working a graveyard shift, a sense of stability and comfort came in the morning from ordering ham and eggs. 

Having only known Las Vegas as my home, I have never experienced it as a vacation. It’s the mid-nineties, my grandparent’s packed six kids into their station wagon leading a caravan of family high-tailing to Laughlin for the weekend. I remember sitting in a neon-lit cafe, a powder blue painted sky illuminates the ceiling. My grandfather passes me an open coffee creamer, I shoot it like a shot. I eat some eggs and randomly pick some numbers on a pink sheet of paper with my grandma guiding me. One of my aunts with a deep raspy chainsmoking voice adds the ticket to her pile, Keno numbers call throughout the cafe. Maybe we will win, either way, I get some rock candy on the way out. I was enthralled by the crystalized sugar in the hotel room that evening as my family left us to be babysat by our oldest cousin while they took to the town. 

Outside a digital canopy spanning four blocks displays a fake sky with the saying Cover Your Mouth to tourists below.

Recently walking around Downtown Las Vegas, a powder blue digital sky is flooding into my retinas with the words Cover Your Mouth stretched over a 4 block widescreen. A little bit away from there, they’ve changed out the thirteen-year-old rose print carpet at the El Cortez with something more trendy, and a new monolith of a casino is erected in the skyline five blocks away.

Despite the dated advertising slogan “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” everything is live-streamed. Even though a pandemic, the fabricated glamour and attempt at illusion persist. I forgo the rock candy instead I hiked a steep mountain trail revered by locals, the distant skyline of the city is mesmerizing. This is home. This is the place where so many I love have lived and live.