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It’s easy to get lost in Las Vegas — well, not get lost, exactly, but lose touch with a sense of place. If the Strip riotously channels everywhere but here, the cityscape that flanks our neon lagoon insists on placelessness: It can often present itself as, at best, a suspiciously Southwestish melange of strip malls, tract homes, weedy lots with political billboards. Landmarks, icons? We’ve got a few. But considered through the smeared lens of edifying hangover, they can often seem like last night’s bad tattoos. (Ahem, let’s hope there’s a removal service that can professionally and discreetly scrub off that unfortunate Slotzilla on our ankle.) Maybe the reason so many would-be Southern Nevadans who end up doing the pass-through shuffle feel a lack of connection isn’t because of all that bad, sad stuff on whatever Nevada report just came out; maybe it reflects a hunger for iconography, a desire for visual anchors in the desert sea that signal home.

If I’m describing you — if you keep a suitcase close, certain boxes unpacked — I prescribe a therapeutic regimen of photography. Download an app with all those filters that add cinematic streaks and glares, or splurge on a high-end point-and-shoot that instantly uploads to the social media Skynet. See Nevada solely through a lens for a while. Why: Not so much an art form or pastime anymore so much as, I dunno, this strange and permanent collective cybernetic appendage we’ve all grown, photography nurtures an eye for the markers of place. That was the private buzz I got from being a judge in our second annual “Focus on Nevada” photo contest: a crowdsourced affirmation of all the different and distinct wheres that tell us where we live: the topos of the Strip, revived and re-envisioned; cityscapes and landscapes through different lenses both literal and figurative; people and animals being their true and best selves in their native habitat. (Totally forgot how cool crows look.) I’ve heard a pro shooter here and there grumble how, woe is me, everyone’s a photographer these days, how Instagram has emboldened the hordes and flooded the optical marketplace — online life itself is a photo contest, really — but I’m glad of it: It fueled our contest to the tune of more than 1,400 entries.

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This year we matured the process a bit. We created themed categories to encourage breadth of vision: Artistic/Abstract, People/In the moment, Landscapes/Nature, Places and Smartphone. To dose the enterprise with some experimental community cred, we brought on a bevy of judges — designers, photographers, artists, architects, stylists, tastemakers — to judge category finalists on three criteria: impact, expression of the “Focus on Nevada” theme, and technique. The results? Totally wanna go, “See for yourself!” (p. 41), but I also want to wax wishful that we had two dozen more pages to share all the rich sense of place. But the good news is that you can get there from here.

And speaking of eye candy: On May 2, Desert Companion won a much-coveted Maggie Award for Best Cover at the annual Western Publishing Association banquet in Los Angeles. Considered “the Oscars of publishing,” the Maggie awards celebrate excellence in editorial, design and advertising. The award was for the cover of our April 2013 spring fashion cover — photo by Robert John Kley, design by Art Director Chris Smith. *Fistbump.*

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