Fine Art

Aaron Mayes’ ‘Built’ considers the constructed landscape of Las Vegas

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A photograph of a homeless man watching floodwaters as he loses his belongings—part of Built at UNLV.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

A swimming pool fenced against an expanse of empty desert; an aerial view of seemingly infinite suburbia; a flooded wash; black ribbons of highway on-ramps. This is the Las Vegas—both mundane and exquisite, yet always monumental in its mastery of hostile land—local photographer Aaron Mayes is recording for posterity.

Built: A Photographic Survey of the Built Environment of the Las Vegas Valley marks the halfway point of the five-year Building Las Vegas project. By introducing the work to the public now, Mayes hopes viewers will suggest spots that should be photographed.

“My job is not to tell people what’s good or bad,” says Mayes, the visual materials curator for UNLV’s special collections and archives. “My job is to show everything as it is—warts and all.” The hope is that Las Vegans 100 or 300 years from now will learn from our city’s architectural and urban planning triumphs, as well as our mistakes.

“My favorite photo is the one I’m going to take next,” says Mayes. He looks forward to documenting the building of the Raiders stadium and other new construction. Mayes includes cars whenever possible, because they act as a “time stamp” to our era. He calls Ascaya, the terraced mountain development in Henderson, the “reverse Machu Picchu,” because the mountain was carved into lots and then left empty, waiting for economic recovery. “It’s just moved earth and asphalt. Four hundred years from now, if nothing is built there, it will look exactly the same.”

Built Through May. Reception February 9, 5:30 p.m., free. UNLV’s Lied Library, 702-895-2286.

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