The Las Vegas of today is a far cry from the shimmering, hedonistic centre that once stood tall in Nevada’s Mojave desert.
Though the city has grown rampantly, it has done so at the expense of the authenticity that once made it such a draw. The modern Las Vegas – synthetic, vacuous, strange – pales in comparison to the old playground of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin et al. It’s a different place.
However, many of the characters from those glory days never actually left. In a new book, titled Off The Strip, American photographer Hunter Barnes presents the old Vegas heroes who stayed behind – from the showgirls and lounge singers, to the imposing, Scorsesian casino bosses.
“My first thought was, ‘This is not the place that they lived in,’” Barnes says, remembering his arrival in the city. “The best way to sum it up is, when I got there, I checked into one of the old hotels that has a lot of history. I went downstairs to the steakhouse and thought, ‘Oh man, I better get dressed up.’”
“So, I got really dressed up, went down to the steakhouse and as soon as I got there realised I was the only guy in a suit – everybody else was in flip flops and cargo shorts! I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is a completely different era in time.’”
The photos in Off The Strip – shot mainly in black and white – present a community that now exists on the sidelines, despite having helped shape the city during its heyday in the late ’60s and 70s. Together, they serve as a living embodiment of the demolished landmarks they once made their names in.
For Barnes, a photographer who specialises in documenting those that exist outside of the modern American narrative (“I guess somehow I relate to them!”), the original characters of Vegas are products of a different time: a forgotten community, where the old spirit still remains.
“What I took home from it was that particular time period was a very tight-knit community. It was also a very glamorous time – a town for adults, and they had a blast. It was a heyday, a special place.”
“What’s next for it? I couldn’t really say. But I just think it’s going to continue to develop. It’s a very touristy town – people that go there now want something different.
Off The Strip is available now from Reel Art Press.