“If you were to imagine a horror movie when all the people disappear, that’s what it looks like… you can’t imagine a circumstance that could possibly cause this.” Larry Scott, NY Times – April 26, 2020
By March 18th 2020, a statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic ordered the closure of all non-essential Nevada businesses. Overnight, Las Vegas casinos, hotels, restaurants, clubs and shops were shuttered. Host to an annual 42,000,000 visitors, the famed “Strip” was suddenly a western ghost town. The thousands of autos and pedestrians that typically packed Las Vegas Boulevard, all but disappeared. Known as one of the busiest intersections in the United States, the junction of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue was quiet. Writing in the New York Times (April 26, 2020), article titled How Las Vegas Became Ground Zero for the American Jobs Crisis, Sabrina Tavernise, reports, “As the bottom fell out of the American economy, few places were hit harder than Las Vegas, where a full one third of the local economy is in the leisure and hospitality industry.”
Few places on the planet are as universally well known. The words Las Vegas or simply Vegas call up iconic images of a place familiar to a vast audience. Many of us know the locations first hand. We have walked the Strip, possibly stood in the same spot. These pictures may shock and surprise us. A weird, surreal, apocalyptic people-less cityscape in lockdown is not what we expect.
Author, Joan Didion observed that “Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements.” Good or bad, nearly everyone has an opinion. After the party, Vegas demands answers to larger questions. Beyond the neon façade, what is Las Vegas about? What does it really mean to be what Hunter S. Thompson called “the heart of the American Dream”? It is an alternate reality where two sides of the coin cohabitate; boom and bust, winners and losers, rich and poor, elation and sadness, renewal and decay, reality and illusion, things refined and tasteless all collide. Promoted as Sin City… Vegas is a beautiful, glamorous, decadent, eccentric, seductive, over the top, 24/7 adult theme park.
Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada is a new place relative to the places it copies. It is constantly reimagined, torn down and rebuilt: A monumental postmodern city that literally mimics great historic and mythic destinations. The compact four-mile strip is home to 150,000 hotel rooms built into facsimiles of Rome, Luxor, Camelot, Venice, Paris and New York. Screenwriter Jeff Maguire asked “why tour the world when all you have to do is visit Las Vegas and see the highlights in one location.”
The lockdown lasted 78 days. In early June, some Las Vegas attractions gradually reopened with reduced occupancy, social distancing, masks and strict COVID-19 cleaning protocols. Months later under the new normal, people are slowly returning. By October, nightclubs and popular shows had yet to reopen. Tourism, gaming and live entertainment won’t thrive under pandemic rules. The thirty billion dollar Vegas economy and the workforce it employs will take years to recover.
Christopher Landis has an MFA in Photography and an MA in History. His fine art landscape portfolios have been exhibited and collected throughout the United States. Landis' documentary works Pilgrimage: Images from Manzanar and In Search of Eldorado: The Salton Sea earned international recognition. New projects in process include, Names on the Land, Common Places: American Battlefields, Viewpoints, Return to Eldorado: The Salton Sea and Las Vegas Pandemic 2020. Recently retired from a 45 year career as a business owner/manager, decades of photo works will soon be published in print and on the web.