Like many of the city’s entertainers, Las Vegas is perhaps best seen from a distance. And now we know the ideal distance: 10,000 feet–straight up.
Photographer Vincent Laforet ascended 10,800 feet in a helicopter (or 8,799 feet above the city itself, which is 2,001 feet above sea level), to capture the images in the “AIR: Sin City 10.8K” series, shown here.
It’s the second time the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer has hovered over a city at night to create images so detailed and colorful that they become almost unreal. Laforet made waves earlier this year with a similar series of aerial shots of New York. That series originally came out of a commission from Men’s Health Magazine, but the idea for the photos has been sitting in Laforet’s imagination a very long time. “I’ve been seeing these pictures since I was 13 years old, landing at JFK and looking at that grid,” says Laforet. “I knew I really wanted to shoot that someday.” But, he says, the reality was, existing technology wouldn’t translate the images as he saw them.
Part of the wonder of the Las Vegas and New York photos is that, according to Laforet, people are seeing something they haven’t really seen before–no photographer has ever shot a city from this height at night. No existing camera had a sensor sensitive enough to capture the images as he saw them in low light until very recently (Laforet captured these images with a “Canon 1Dx and a Phase One Credo 50 MP body, each set to 6400 ISO”).
In addition to that leap in photographic technology, the photos’ impact–particularly their striking blues–is the result of the shift from sodium tungsten (which created more of an orange light) to LED lighting in cities. “With the high ISO cameras, the sensors see more than the eye can see–you’re seeing these colors that are always there but the eye corrects for,” Laforet says. And the images you see are pretty much what the camera saw–Laforet says there was no significant manipulation involved.
The process of capturing the photos was harrowing, involving a harnessed Laforet hanging out of an open helicopter door over the twinkly abyss, but the shots are intended to convey a benign feeling about the cities we all share. “When you’re on ground level in New York, it’s really intimidating,” Laforet says. “You feel small. But from the air, New York looks small; it looks within grasp. The lights feel like energy, people gravitate toward it. Whether you’re thinking about it consciously or not, you feel we’re all in this together; we’re all connected. That’s why he says the series is called “Air”–“we’re all responsible for it.”
And Laforet intends for that communal feeling to extend to the next phase of Air. The Las Vegas photos represent the second step in building what Laforet hopes will be not just a global aerial tour, yielding more stunning shots, but a content sharing platform that will bring together creators from around the world.
Laforet had been talking to Mark Kawano, founder and CEO of Storehouse for the past few years, and when the New York series took off after Laforet posted the shots there, the wave of interest generated enough momentum, and money, for him to plan five more shoots in U.S. Cities. Laforet and friends have been talking to potential sponsors about a global series–starting in Europe–and Laforet wants to invite other creators to submit their own visions of the city, for a platform that will exist online and IRL.
“I’ve always been a teacher and I like to pay it forward,” says Laforet. “I’d like this to grow into something grander than a book and gallery show.” While it’s early stages, Laforet sees a multi-tier platform where people can contribute works on their own city–from photo essays to recipes–that will be shared online, and will form the basis of live meetups and events in each city. “And hopefully, one of their projects will strike,” says Laforet.
See more of Laforet’s work on Storehouse.