Looking For Signs With Photographer Mikayla Whitmore
As a photojournalist, Mikayla Whitmore deals in the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of most journalism. But all her work has a special touch. It could be an image of a cat, car, bicyclist, or even a goat. The colors and movement and vibrancy set her apart.
Now, as good fortune would have it, Whitmore has been selected as the fall Artist-in-Residence at the Neon Museum. Good fortune because she’s long had an interest in Las Vegas signage.
She’s creating a project, for the museum, that she’s calling, "This Time Around."
What are some of the different things you’re bringing into this project?
This is the first project I’ve embarked on that’s really going to use participants and guests to create an overall piece.
I’m going to have all the materials provided for so they can build miniature signs that can be added to a larger diorama, in which I’m going to photograph and make this fake city of referencing Las Vegas.
Why do you want other people’s views on this?
For the residency program the Neon Museum really wanted to welcome community and foster a conversation. As I was thinking of some ideas towards that purpose, I have really been interested in signage and starting to thinking about miniatures to photograph.
Then I thought, how can do this on a bigger scale and make it more of an activity. That’s where this came about. Giving up some of that freedom is going to be interesting because the signage is going to be based on the participants but then I gain some control back when I actually go into my studio and photograph the diorama.
How big are these signs going to be?
I’m going to provide a 4 by 6 piece of balsa wood that is maybe less than an eighth of an inch. That’s going to be the base that they can make a sign. Then I’ll have markers, foam, glitter – a ton of glitter.
How did you come up with the title “This Time Around?”
I was born and raised in Las Vegas. As many locals or longtime residents, you see this town builds things up, they get a façade, the rip it down, they put something new in its place, and often you’re in a conversation with someone and you’ll say, ‘Do you remember when the MGM had a theme park? Or a family-fun canoe ride?’ and you start going and going and before you know it you can’t remember what was there or what maybe there now.
I was thinking of all of that and maybe through creating this diorama, this time around we’ll get it right. Or we’ll have a Strip that shows a little bit more of the community has a whole, other than just the advertisements that you might see promoting Las Vegas to the outer world.
The signs around Las Vegas have changed over the years?
That’s kind of where this project started was slowly documenting the signage for me and then took on this other life form of wanting to re-create an entire diorama of signage so I can show a different side of Las Vegas and really get an involvement I hadn’t had before.
Do you have an obsession with signs?
As time goes on and you start to piece together why you might be attracted to something or why you’re making this work, I do.
It’s slowly coming to light to me that I’m always attracted to neon, wherever I go. I’m attracted to signs. I’ve been photographing them like crazy. So yes, I do think I have an obsession. And the neon has leached into my blood stream from being raised here.
If you were given the opportunity to create a sign for a hotel, what would it look like?
That is quite the question! I’m not sure what casino I could put it at, but other than signage, I’m a big fan of dinosaurs. This goes all the way back to “Jurassic Park” and the “Land Before Time.” So I would definitely want to see a T-Rex somehow on the sign, decked out in neon, maybe with an animatronic mouth.
MGM Grand used to have a giant, golden lion head that was on the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd, in which people would have to walk through. It eventually got removed because they updated it and there were some superstitious rumors going around it, but if I could replicate that with a giant T-Rex head, bedazzled, animatronics. I would be very happy.
"This Time Around"
Mikayla Whitmore, with Joe Schoenmann, studying Nevada Public Radio’s signage.
Mikayla Whitmore, fall Artist in Residence, The Neon Museum