Las Vegas vs The Landscape: Photographer Michael Light Exposes the Terraforming of the American Dream

“Barcelona” Homes and the Edge of Lake Mead Recreation Area, Lake Las Vegas, Henderson, NV; 2011. Image © , Lake Las Vegas/Black Mountain

“Nestled into the desert landscape that defines ’s visage,
Ascaya feels as if it were shaped by the elements.
[...]
Where stone rises up to meet the sky, there is a place called Ascaya.”
- The Ascaya promotional website

Not quite, according to Michael Light’s soon-to-be released book, Lake Las Vegas/Black Mountain. Covering the advance of suburban Nevada into the desert, this two-part book looks at Lake Las Vegas, a then-abandoned victim of the 2008 real estate crash which has since emerged from the other side of bankruptcy, and nearby Ascaya, a high end housing estate that is still in the process of being carved into Black Mountain. Light’s photography doesn’t so much question the developers’ summary as it does, say, blast it, scar it, terrace it and then build a large housing development on the remains. Featuring beautifully composed aerial shots of the construction sites and golf courses covering the desert, the book is a clear condemnation of the destructive and unsustainable development in Nevada. Much more than that, though, Light is highlighting a wider philosophy behind developments like Ascaya and Lake Las Vegas that fundamentally fail to connect American society with the American landscape in a non-destructive way.

The Berlage Archive: Julius Shulman (2000)

In this 2000 Berlage Institute lecture, titled “Neutra’s Architecture and Modernism in California,” American architectural photographer Julius Shulman outlines a twofold mission: to introduce his two new books, Modernism Rediscovered, and Neutra: Complete Works, and to speak to architectural students and educators who are responsible for the future of the field. Highly jovial and personable, Shulman starts off on a playful tone, inviting audience members to sit on the floor next to him and insisting on the informality of his lecture; he begins by describing how he met Richard Neutra, purely by chance, and made history with the iconic photograph of the Kaufman House, solely through a rebellious desire to pursue a beautiful sunset.

Shulman speaks of Neutra both affectionately and critically. He advises, “Those of you who hope to be architects, please be human about how people live in your house. Don’t wipe it clean and empty the way Neutra used to do it, because he was more interested in the image of a house – pure architecture, without furniture.” The lecture introduces Shulman’s photographs of Modernist homes in California, including Frank Gehry‘s first house, Shulman’s own house and studio by Raphael Soriano, and works by Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller, before moving on to briefly introduce projects from his vast archives. Pierluigi Serraino joins him halfway through the lecture to discuss the process of writing their publication, Modernism Rediscovered, and the responsibilities of an architectural photographer.

The lecture demonstrates the incredible breadth of Shulman’s portfolio, his fascinating thought process, and an indefatigable spirit. When describing the moment when he broke away from Neutra’s admonishment in order to photograph the exquisite sky above the Kaufman House, the iconic photographer enthuses,”Don’t ever hesitate. If you want to do something, whether it’s to design a house or kiss a beautiful woman, or whatever you want to do, do it! No one’s going to stop you.”

Julius Shulman (1910-2009)

Case Study House #22, (playboy), 1960 Los Angeles, CA / Pierre Koenig, architect   © Julius Schulman
Case Study House #22, (playboy), 1960 Los Angeles, CA / Pierre Koenig, architect © 

Case Study Houses was a residential experiment sponsored by the Arts & Architecture magazine, introducing the modern movement ideas for affordable and efficient housing during the post-war years in the US.

The result? Amazing houses by , Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig and Eero Saarinen, built between 1945-1966 mostly in LA.

Most of you already know about this… mostly due to the incredible photos that registered this houses, reflecting more than just pure architecture, a lifestyle. And the man (genius) behind the lens was Julius Shulman, who passed away yesterday July 16th, 2009.

A selection of his photos after the break.