These photographs were created by Andrew Wood in February and July 2005, contributing to research that resulted in an essay (PDF) published in Text and Performance Quarterly, November 2005. To see the fullsize images, please click the thumbnails. Also, if you would like to see some decidedly non-omnitopian sites in Nevada, please visit my Motel Americana page dedicated to the motels of the Silver State.
Visitors to Las Vegas have come to expect safe passage and fluid motion uniting an array of richly themed environments. Covered walkways, moving sidewalks, underground passages, and street crossing bridges [I'm standing on one] render each themed environment into nodes of the same experience, almost impossibly distant from the city beyond.
During my July visit to Las Vegas, I stay about two hours on the observation level of the half-sized Eiffel Tower. At first, I stare at the shadow projected by the tower over the hotel pool. The dizzy feeling of height, the power to see it all, sweeps over me. I snap photographs and hum an old Fixx song: “Cameras in Paris.”
I hear the unzipping of camera bags and watch fellow tourists reenact the discipline of the photography area. They busy themselves with technical details and position each other in poses that strike me as “typical”: looking out over the landscape or smiling directly at the photographer. Their digital cameras emit an electronic “shutter click” sound that reminds me of old SLR cameras.
I find myself sitting on “Hudson Street” in New York-New York, near the plate glass window for Mike's TV Repair: a jumble of old television sets, one with exposed vacuum tubes, some set to snow, one running a local channel in black and white. The one color-screen reveals a shot of the alley where I'm perched. I see myself smoking a cheap cigar.
One can become easily immersed in omnitopia; its performances and referents preclude meaningful or transcendent purpose outside of itself. The omnitopian locale is ever-present and pervasive, persuasive in its totality.
The photographer’s gaze -- the technologies of composing, editing, capturing, discarding -- enables a measure of control over the environment, a means to transform it into one’s personal collection of images.
Crossing between some of the resort hotels, I must become an explorer, climbing five-foot walls and dropping onto crumpled cigarette butts. In the sky above, a helicopter hangs in the air, perhaps collecting traffic conditions for a local news affiliate. Outside of the comforting embrace of authorized places, I feel vulnerable and slightly illegal.
I discover an elevator to an above-street entrance, but find it closed to me because I lack a keycard from the nearby hotel. I return to the street and wander in frustration while monorail patrons strolled along a skyway to the station above me.
I cannot convey the irony of my position -- a relatively privileged academic posing as a statue for the gaze of others. My pose is potentially more artificial than “his” or the real workingman across the way: I can get up and leave. Even so, I revel in the pleasure of the occasional question: “Is HE for real?”
The mime waits for wandering folks to cross his path. He surveys the looks, some awestruck but most blasé. He seems to prefer the latter, looking for an opportunity to tickle them. The hapless walker invariably feels a strange sensation -- a fly, perhaps? -- and gesticulates cluelessly while the small crowd laughs.