James Kenney recently logged a new story, from a side trip of his in Las Vegas. In the struggling Arts District north of the strip, he came upon the burnt shell of what looked like a residential motel. The barrier fence had been removed across its driveways, and the building appeared boarded-up and empty, so he ventured its three stories of pathways. The photos became the series below, which highlights the abstraction of the front of the place, and the complexity at the back of it. Below is his description, followed by an interview.
Las Vegas, December 02, 2016. An apartment complex was consumed by fire. The graffitied building had been a vacant redevelopment project, likely inhabited by squatters who were suspected of unintentionally starting the blaze. There were no injuries.
Photographed a few weeks after the fire
the gestural washes of persistent graffiti
across a carcass of concrete and stucco
belted by rails, and bleached by a desert winter sun.
Did you feel vulnerable entering this space alone?
Absolutely. Most of the building was exposed to a large boulevard, so I attempted to move and freeze. The initial parts of the building did not show much fire damage, because the fire had spread internally and out of the upper-most roof, and not beyond the containing cement walls. But toward the elevator shaft and main stairwell, the char was thick, and therefore, I was worried about structural damage as I climbed the levels. I didn’t notice any doors open and I didn’t try to open any, aware of my limits and fearful of what might be inside, animate or not.
Did you come across anything animate?
Yes. A man.
I had been through the entire building, including on the upper-most back-landing, from which I first spied the wreckage of a swimming pool that had been filled in, as a liability, during a previous incarnation of this building’s use. And I had seen no one.
I made my way back down the dark core stairwell which was both interior and yet still outside, but had to adjust my eyes to the bright and blight of the back patio. This is where they had dumped most of the ruin from rooms. As I scanned laterally, a man lay in a lounge chair along the back perimeter wall, fully private from the street. I shouted across, apologizing for not having seen him, which became a permit for his approaching mental illness mumble rant. My goal was to get some photographs unimpeded, so I gave him a medium sized bill, asking him to model. That way, I had a right to direct him, instead of being the ear to his conspired life.
But our session didn’t last long before a new character entered – a younger meth-ier guy with a tinge of skinhead. He immediately informed us that he had just gotten out of jail, for some bogus weed possession, and then he started directing the photo-shoot. I was out-numbered, talking and walking my way out of there, to the auto-lock of my rented compact SUV, a few blocks away.