Beginning April 8, 2022, a photography exhibit featuring black and white photographs of contemporary Las Vegas will be on view at Highlands University Kennedy Hall Gallery. The exhibit, titled “The Las Vegas Project: Contemporary Life on the Historic Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico,” will open with a reception from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, April 8.
The exhibit will feature 52 photographs by nine expert Florida photographers who are part of the Crealdé School of Art. Some of the photographers will host a community conversation at the Kennedy Gallery on April 9 at 2 p.m.
Photography instructor and Crealdé School of Art executive director Peter Schreyer said he has had a love affair with New Mexico for more than 40 years. He said he frequently travels to New Mexico from his home in Winter Park, Florida, as a teacher, photographer, tour guide and for family vacations. On a trip to New Mexico in the 1990s, Schreyer came across Las Vegas.
“I was in Santa Fe at a conference and wanted to see something different. I’m a railroad fan, so I thought I’d just follow the railroad line,” he said. he said, “I followed the train tracks to Las Vegas and over the next 25 years I periodically stopped in Las Vegas.”
Schreyer is a documentary photographer and said that over the years he has done extensive documentary projects about changing communities. He said he was drawn to Las Vegas in part by how slowly things have changed compared to many Florida communities.
“I have a photo from 30 years ago which is a view of the Hotel Castañeda on Railroad Avenue, looking down at one of the auto repair and body shops across the street. You just see the Castañeda arches; you can’t say the hotel is closed at that time,” Schreyer said. “What I love so much about photography is how some things change so much and others don’t change at all – like the tree shadows cast on Railroad Avenue are no different today than they were 30 years ago. And they still fix old vintage cars across the street, and I think it’s still the same family owner if I’m not mistaken.
Schreyer is Swiss-American, and he compares the slow change in Las Vegas to his home country of Switzerland.
“What has fascinated me so much about Las Vegas for years is how culturally and historically untouched it is,” Schreyer said. “As an artist, it’s fascinating to go somewhere where so much has survived. There is still so much of that history that is still there and so many families that were there at the beginning that are still there.
As an immigrant, Schreyer said New Mexico’s history is fascinating to learn about and he hopes others will learn from the “Las Vegas Project” exhibit.
“A lot of Americans don’t realize that the whole Southwest belonged to Spain and then to Mexico,” Schreyer said. “It’s really fascinating to see how much of this legacy has survived and this spirit of independence. Isolation really seemed to have been the common theme of New Mexico’s history — being isolated from Spain, isolated from Mexico, and isolated from the United States — but the people thrived despite that, and that spirit is still going strong. .
Schreyer said that although he had never spent more than two days in Las Vegas over the years, he knew he wanted to stay longer and do a bigger project. And although “Project Las Vegas” coincided with pandemic restrictions, Schreyer and his students were able to spend eight days of the 16-week course in Las Vegas.
All eight photographers whose work is featured in the Las Vegas Project had to apply for admission to the program, and each photographer came to the Crealdé School of Art with the intention of creating professional photographs.
“I call them the dream team because they were such a great mix of men and women. They’re digital photographers and film photographers,” Schreyer said. “This project photographically combines old and new technologies “The cameras that have been used range from state-of-the-art digital to vintage 1950s cameras, and all prints are all handmade.”
Schreyer said he worked with the eight photographers to come up with a master plan for how they would collectively tell the story of the Las Vegas community. Each photographer had the opportunity to work on similar shots and work in a specific niche on their own.
“There are oral histories with each photograph, so each photograph either has a story of the location or quotes from the person who was interviewed,” Schreyer said.
Of the 52 photographs in the exhibition, 10 are by Schreyer and the remaining 42 belong to the eight participants. Schreyer said he looks forward to the community conversation scheduled for April 9 at 2 p.m. as he welcomes feedback from people who live in Las Vegas.
“No documentary is ever complete; it’s never completely inclusive,” Schreyer said. “There is always more to add. I think people are going to connect to a lot of things, and there are probably things they would suggest we should have included, but we just didn’t.
The exhibition “The Las Vegas Project” is scheduled until May 31. Schreyer also hopes to find a permanent home for the collection so that it can remain in New Mexico for residents of the state to enjoy.
“Our ultimate goal is to donate the exhibit to a publicly accessible collection in New Mexico, to make it available for future generations, and as a historic record for the Santa Fe Trail’s 200th anniversary year,” Schreyer said. “No one needs to do another book or exhibit on Taos or Santa Fe; there are already so many. People from other areas of New Mexico can learn more about Las Vegas.