Sean Megna’s Las Vegas Panoramics captures a city in jarring transition

Sean Megna shoots his black-and-white Vegas panoramas wherever and whenever he can.
Photo: Sean Megna / Courtesy

Nearly everyone in this Valley is involved with Las Vegas’ hospitality industry in some way. And I imagine that, statistically speaking, most of us live in the suburbs; that’s just the way this city was made. But most of us don’t think about the areas of wealth, poverty, empty land and unfinished construction between our workplaces and our front door, at least not on a daily basis. Photographer Sean Megna is more or less consumed by that curiosity.

Megna, a seven-year Vegas resident originally from Brooklyn, shoots high-contrast black-and-white panoramas of the city’s assorted urban biomes. His ever-growing photography series, Las Vegas Panoramics, is online at seanmegna.zenfolio.com, and you ought to look at it before you read any further. It’s a beautiful series—Megna’s photography evokes the works of Robert Adams and Henry Wessel, works he describes as“the Western American trope”—but more than that, it’s a Vegas you’ll scarcely recognize. Outside of our tourist corridors, planned communities and re-emerging downtown areas, Vegas can look like a literal dust bowl—and Megna shoots it with the cool detachment of a documentarian. It’s tempting to shoot Vegas as a fantasyland, a science-fiction movie; Megna shoots it as it is—bright, vast and in a constant state of making and undoing.

“I’m trying to focus on the economic segregation that’s happening as the city grows,” Megna says. He presents me with a mission statement that not only explains the project, but Las Vegas itself: “The landscape vernacular of Las Vegas is squarely unique in the history of American landscape photography. … The luxury housing communities on the outside of town overlook the suburbs below, always with a view of the Strip jutting out somewhere in the background. The landscape is so large, open and visibly accessible … it feels like it’s all laid out in front of you. It’s almost suspiciously convenient.”

Megna shoots as often as he can. (Time’s a premium for him; he has two children, and his wife also works full-time.) And he’s not yet sure what this project will become, beyond an online portfolio. He’s toying with the idea of a book (“The town deserves more than 10 or 20 images”) or a gallery show (“That validation is always helpful … it’s like a birthday cake”). For now, though, the work “is an excuse to keep making more work,” he says, grinning.

Whatever form Las Vegas Panoramics eventually takes, it’s an exciting and engaging thing now—a peek through a window Megna is still in the process of opening. “It’s how I’ve learned how to look at the city, in its own vernacular and how it affects me, but also how visible it is. The lines are really defined here. Instead of an abandoned warehouse, you have abandoned housing developments.”

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