Desert Companion

History: The Las Vegas News Bureau shoots to thrill

The countless iconic photos of fun and frolic in the heat of Las Vegas live, ironically, in the cold — 65 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. The shivery climate of the backroom photo vault of the Las Vegas News Bureau is meant to slow the creep of natural decay that makes the photos curl and turn yellow.

“You can’t stop the degradation of photos, but you can slow it down,” says Lisa Jacob, the Las Vegas News Bureau’s senior manager. “And these images are certainly worth preserving.”

If Jacob sounds more like a Vegas preservationist than a Vegas promoter, there’s a reason. The Las Vegas News Bureau is the agency charged with seeding media outlets around the globe with scenes from Sin City. But over the decades, it has become a de facto museum too, boasting more than a million images in its archives. And as it turns 65 this year, watch for the bureau to share the wealth with a number of public exhibits plucked from a collection so vast even they don’t know everything that’s in there.

[HEAR MORE: Learn about the historic John S. Park neighborhood on "KNPR's State of Nevada."]

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When the bureau launched in the late ’40s, cameras weren’t tucked away in every pocket and purse, and celebrities gamely took staged photos in front of their favorite hotel-casino. How has the bureau adapted in an age of Flickr pools and stock image sites? In a decidedly old-fashioned way: by getting the best shots.

“What we do is a lot different than someone shooting a concert photo on their iPhone from way up in the balcony,” Jacob says. “Our photos are the best.”

It helps to have a team of Vegas-loving veteran shooters. Lead photographer Darrin Bush, for instance, has been with the bureau for 23 years. The soft-spoken Bush favors covering the fun stuff.

“I love covering the exciting events — the implosions, sports, rock concerts,” he says. And there’s nothing like a good celeb encounter, either — though sometimes the stars are enlisted in the cause as well. For example, in 1997, Bush drove to Newport Beach, where he, Rat Packer Joey Bishop and celluloid sex kitten Mamie Van Doren pored through 700 Vegas photos to identify subjects.

Any tips for amateur shutterbugs? “With photography, there’s always a little bit of luck involved,” Bush says. “But getting media credentials and being placed in the right position helps.” There’s another irony: The Las Vegas native’s understatement and modesty. But he does allow himself one boast: “I’ve got the best job in Las Vegas.” 

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