Big Business in Las Vegas
photos and text by
During a road trip last summer, I stopped in Las Vegas,
looking for a gas station. I saw Firestone, the Seven-Eleven, a wedding
chapel, and then another wedding chapel. And another. It was Tuesday,
mid day, and I passed three weddings in full swing right in a row. I was
intrigued. I started photographing.
Las Vegas has turned marriage into a commodity, commercializing sentimentality
and infusing it with fantasy. The phenomenon of a quickie wedding in Las
Vegas combines the seemingly disparate worlds of entertainment and sentiment.
Whether that fantasy is manufactured, as in the Pink Caddy Package where
the happy couple is driven into the chapel to be married by Elvis, or
personalized with hand written wedding vows, Las Vegas offers a range
of options to fulfill every whimsy.
With the many choices, where does the artifice end and the authenticity
begin? It is this question of what is real underneath the veneer of pomp
and circumstance that got me photographing inside wedding chapels on the
Las Vegas Strip. I expected a garish parody of weddings, a mockery of
marriage. However, the more I photographed, I began to notice an underlying
thread linking each ceremony that I had not expected. The one constant
behind each of these productions is the pledge to love, honor and cherish
each other “till death do us part” that is taken as a serious
and solemn vow.
My fascination held me there, attending more weddings, photographing couple
after couple. Nothing was truly individual, or unique about the weddings,
though each one was personalized in a genuine way that took me by surprise.
However, as each ceremony passed, I realized that it wasn’t the
individuals that captured my attention, it was the work of weddings. The
ins and outs of what happens behind the ceremony. The people at their
daily jobs, performing the business of marriage. Details started emerging
signifying the assembly line approach – down to the Kleenex box
fastened behind the pillar that holds the unity candle.
I’d say that Larry Sultan, and his project The Valley,
has been the most influential to me for the way he re-contextualizes an
industry, pornography, about which many have pre-conceived notions. Sultan
is rooted in his ambivalence yet plants the seeds of fascination and repulsion,
desire and loss. He shows things as they are.
So, do these Las Vegas wedding images capture the usual or the unusual?
As Diane Arbus said of her photographs, “These are symptoms and
our moments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious