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photo-eye Book Reviews: Less Vegas

Less Vegas, Photographs by Mauro D'Agati.
Published by Ahrens Editions, 2011.
Less Vegas
Reviewed by Daniel W. Coburn
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 Mauro D'Agati Less Vegas
Photographs by Mauro D'Agati. Edited by Rebecca Kanengiser.
Ahrens Editions, 2011. Hardbound. 168 pp., 108 illustrations, 6-1/2x9".

The glimmering spectacle of lights on the Las Vegas strip, lavish casinos, and images of tap-dancing showgirls will not be found in Mauro D'Agati's latest collection of photographs from Nevada's adult playground. Instead, Less Vegas gives us a glimpse at the seedy bars, run-down marquees, greasy buffets, and broken neon signs that may have once ruled sin-city in its heyday. Instead of photographing Wayne Newton or David Copperfield, the photographer spends his days following a cast of characters he meets on the streets. He shows us tragedy in the land of promise, the failure of those chasing fantasy, and expressions of hope on the faces of those that live or earn their keep on the dirty streets.

A man holds a tattered snapshot to the lens of D'Agati's camera. Looking past his greasy hand and dirty fingernails, one begins to decipher the image: a well-dressed father standing over the casket of his infant daughter. That man is now homeless and hopes to receive a fresh start once he is eligible for social security. Another photo depicts a weathered set of elderly hands. Cheap gold jewelry adorn aged fingers that appear more wrinkled and rough than the alligator-skin purse in their clutch. Each image is striking, and near the end of the book D'Agati provides the reader with a brief bio of each subject, shedding light on their personal struggles and triumphs.

Less Vegas, by Mauro D'Agati. Published by Ahrens Editions, 2011.
Images of the run-down suburban topography merge with photographs of the landscape that surrounds this metropolitan oasis. There are depictions of condemned homes, poorly maintained hotels, and the ruins of wedding chapels. D'Agati shows us the dust and red dirt of the barren desert but also nature as it exists in simulacrum: bold blue skies painted on the ceilings of shopping malls, roadside landscape murals, and casino aquariums.

Less Vegas, by Mauro D'Agati. Published by Ahrens Editions, 2011.
 While this book provides a unique and provocative look at Las Vegas, it also presents an interesting perspective on just a few of the things one might expect from a document of this city. No self-respecting photographer would depart without a photograph of an Elvis impersonator or the greasy, gaudy facade of an antique slot machine. Some of the photographs document the smut, sex, and porn propaganda that have become cliche in this city of erotic indulgence and decadence.

Less Vegas, by Mauro D'Agati. Published by Ahrens Editions, 2011.
 D'Agati takes his audience on an interesting journey, traversing the alleyways and low roads of Las Vegas. We meet a security officer, street performer, Jesus freak, and a stunt man, to name a few. This 125-page monograph confronts the viewer with a set of color photographs that provide a voyeuristic view into the lives of some vivid individuals. A thick layer of intimacy, compassion, and empathy separate this book from others like it. Exploring the pages of this compelling journal is an adventure, and I enjoyed the tour.—Daniel W. Coburn

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Daniel W. Coburn is a contemporary photographer whose visually arresting images have garnered national and international praise. Selections from his body of work have been featured in prestigious exhibitions, including Top 40 at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the National Competition at SOHO Photo Gallery in New York. His photographic works are held in the permanent collections of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, the Mariana Kistler-Beach Museum of Art, the Mulvane Museum of Art and the Moraine Park Museum. Daniel has published two monographs of his work: Between Earth and Sky and Rediscovering Paradise. His most recent body of work, OBJECT:AFFECTION, represents a photographic study on the process of self-objectification. Coburn received his BFA with an emphasis in photography from Washburn University and is currently studying photography as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico.

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