Vegas for Real: Yes, people live here

An image from the Maggie Mancuso Collection on Martin Scorsese’s Casino.
UNLV Special Collections

When Martin Scorsese set out to film Casino in Las Vegas, location manager Maggie Mancuso was charged with scouting viable interior and exterior sites. The task resulted in an impressive photo collection of daily life here: images of homes, streets, businesses, parking lots and daytime shots of the Strip.

Mancuso eventually donated the images to UNLV’s Special Collections -- handing over box-loads of mostly 4-by-6-inch photographs taped together to create panoramic shots, including beautifully preserved ’70s-style interiors.

Though photographed two decades ago and intended for a fictional backdrop, the images present an intimacy through ordinary and banal scenes, artist Catherine Borg says, as opposed to the usual media depictions that create a “limited sense of place.”

From Catherine Borg's "Scouted" in Panorama at the Barrick (10 1/2" by 24")

Using the collection as source material for her project, Scouted: An Inadvertent Archive from the Search for a Cinematic Vegas, Borg aims to present a more dimensional view of Las Vegas. “Many people around the world feel like they know Las Vegas, but most often their knowledge is limited to a two-day blur of a visit or 30-second advertisements,” she told an audience last week at UNLV, where she finished a residency as an Eadington Gaming Fellow.

The notion of a limited perspective of Vegas escapes few who live here. We’ve all been victim to a bizarre array of questions due to our proximity to an internationally famous (and infamous) spectacle. “Knowing” a place based on mediated communication can apply to anywhere, Borg says, pointing out that her new home-city of Baltimore is marketed through nighttime images of the harbor and presented as the setting for The Wire. Borg spent seven years in Las Vegas, creating work in which the city played a strong role, conceptually and physically. In Scouted, she broadens and narrows the context to tackle existential dilemmas.

Mancuso’s “fractured images,” representing a pre-digital era not long gone, function as indicators of fundamental shifts in the daily lives of Americans. They also reflect the uniqueness of life here and the “remorselessly shifting landscape of Las Vegas,” as many of the sites have since been demolished or altered. Scouted, which will play out in time while the artist deals with copyright issues (a process documented as part of the project) may end up as a book. Either way, it will reveal more of the storied and real Las Vegas known to those who live here.

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