Las Vegas Through the Long-Exposure.


I’ve always been a fan of long-exposure photography. I love being able to set up a heavy tripod, find a compelling subject, crank the ISO number as low as it’ll go and the f-stops as high as they’ll go and just leave the shutter open.

Alas, there’s an issue with the kind of crummy little Canon Powershot point-and-shoot with which I use to take all my photos. The ISO doesn’t go low enough, there aren’t enough f-stops and the exposure is limited to 15 seconds.

I’ve seen some work that is taken through lenses that cost more than I’ve earned in my entire life producing some images that are unreal in their clarity and still, gorgeous beauty. Works of photographers like Peter Lik captivated my attention back when I was studying the form in my art school days. I’ve always wanted to reproduce the style of his photographs, but alas, I lack the funds to pursue art of his caliber, resigning myself to making the best out of what I have on hand, which in my case is a 150$ Canon Powershot A590.

The Powershot is a decent enough camera, much better than the one on my iPhone for certain. A thing I like most about this camera is it’s Manual setting unlocks the automatic settings, allowing me to fiddle with exposure, aperture and shutter settings to my very whim, much as I was allowed to do on the Canon EOS and Sony BetacamSPs upon which I learned back at the Art Institute.

Capturing long-exposure shots is difficult. At least as far as the equipment as presented to me is concerned. With a small lens whose aperture range only traverses f2.8 – f8, I’m rather limited in the amount of light I can allow react against the camera’s little charged-coupled device, resulting in some blown-out, overexposed, too-bright photographs. Some however, turned out pretty all right. Nothing I’d consider hanging in a gallery or adding to a portfolio I’d submit for an actual job application, but out of the hundred or so long-exposures I took last night, I feel that these turned out the best and lock a moment in time forever in the medium of digital information and pixels.

Outside the Wynn are a set of waterfalls, water is pumped up from the reflecting pools below and back up to the top in a nonstop waltz of wasting money and resources for the benefit of having a tacky waterfall outside of an equally tacky resort’s facade. In this shot, I used a minimal flash and an exposure time of 3.0 seconds to produce the silky, flowing effect on the water, making it look more like a gentle, translucent sheet draping over the rocks. I love this effect and some day would like to replicate it from inside the waterfall, using an enclosed camera system.

Strangely for midnight on Saturday, Las Vegas is empty. Perhaps the entire city runs on Eastern Time and everybody has long since gone to bed, but by midnight, the Strip was eerily empty, save for myself and the odd pedestrian bumbling the streets and walkways like a lonely old tumbleweed, going wherever the wind takes it. In this shot, I set my shutter for 3.0 seconds. Two pedestrians wandered in front of the lens, leaving a ghostly duet traipsing through the frame and vanishing into the ether as quickly as they appeared.

Inside the Shops at Palazzo can be found an “open-air” cafe. I put the qualifier in quotation marks as the Palazzo is an approximation of Venice. But it’s not an accurate approximation of Venice – it, like all other casinos that ape world landmarks here in Las Vegas is the theme park version of Venice. Verisimilitude only, no substance or reality, just sheer whimsy and imagination. It’s the Paris set from Team America: World Police. The Palazzo is everything that Americans who have never flipped through a National Geographic, let alone been abroad imagine Venice to be. Little gondolas piloted by fellas in flat straw hats and red stripey shirts sing opera at tourists as they go on little tours through the shopping center. There are cafes and gelato stands and mimes. The ceiling however is the sky painted on, there’s a slight domey bow to the ceiling, pale blue skies and fluffy, whispy white clouds dot the faux-sky above. The “sky” is mood-lit to match the outside daylight conditions, brilliant white light beats on the soft blue paint during the noon hours, with the lighting reddening and then darkening as the actual sun sets.

It’s dowright disconcerting. Every time I’m in the Palazzo, unease sweeps across me like waves lapping my ankles at the beach, the valley is uncanny and neck-deep. The interior designers wanted you to think you’re in a quaint little quarter of Venice, recordings of birds singing and wind rustling through leaves is piped in on recurring loop through distant-sounding speakers, so quiet and subdued you’re to believe it’s not even there. For the rubes – those not accustomed to spectacle, such a thing is completely convincing, people wander around the Palazzo, unconcerned with the fact that a 30-story hotel tower lingers over their very heads, a billion tons of brick and steel and concrete just on the other side of a billionth of an inch of paint and light shone through Rosco gels.

Apparently I’m not the only one that feels this way, as a delightful Asian woman slouches in her chair at the “outside” cafe. She’s statue-still, overwhelmed by everything she’d experienced this weekend here in Las Vegas, a trip for which she likely waited her whole life to undertake, a voyage to the American Mecca and now she’s here in the disturbingly-unreal Palazzo, unable to finish her pinot blanc. She sits still, in a state of complete physiological stasis while a waiter wafts through the frame behind her, checking the status of her wine before moving to the next table.

On the other side of the cafe, a maintenance worker swings his mop across the glistening marble floor, the only activity at this dead hour. People, overwhelmed by their experiences here stagger about like placid zombies, brains burned out from a weekend of walking and bright lights, loud noises, expensive cocktails and beautiful girls.

In the midground, a tourist couple eyeballs the closed gelato stand. They stare at it with the bleary intensity of soldiers on their fifth hour of watch.

Two gorgeous women, exhausted from their day on The Strip relax on the cinderblock railing at Las Vegas Boulevard and Desert Inn. The two remained stock-still enough for the streaking lights of the automobiles whipping past at typical too-damned-fast-for-comfort Las Vegas speeds to leave starlines out to infinity. By far my favorite photograph of the night.

If ever there were a metaphor for my existence, this is it. Alone, abandoned, left to fend for itself on the streets of Las Vegas. Once loved by someone, albeit briefly and then once it no longer entertained, discarded as waste. Godspeed little cocktail glass, I hope you find love and fulfilment somewhere and don’t end up smashed on the blacktop, another fatality of this cold, uncaring, cynical city.

I hope you enjoyed your stay here in Fabulous Las Vegas. I hope you spent all the money you were going to spend and enjoyed all the sights you’d intended on enjoying. Now fucking go home.

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