NEW YORK, NY.-
In March of 2009, when America's economic crash and housing crisis had peaked and the nation was still engaged in two long wars, Los Angeles based photographer Pamela Littky stumbled upon the small desert community of Baker, California on her way to a photo shoot in Las Vegas. A municipal water tank emblazoned with the ominous words "Welcome to Baker-Gateway To Death Valley" piqued her interest. She was curious to find out what a town that promotes itself as the entrance to the legendary region of the Mojave Desert which hosts the hottest climate in the world, and with virtually nothing on either side of it, was all about. In October of the same year, Littky discovered another small town in Nevada called Beatty situated on the opposite side of the desert that made the same claim as Baker.
Littky was drawn to these tight-knight communities that seemed to exist not frozen in time but entirely in their own cultural zones untouched by national and world events. Littky decided to explore with her camera the unique aspects of each town and learn more about the people that lived there. Vacancy (Kehrer
, September 2014) is the culmination of Littky's four-year project (2009-2012) photographing these places. This beautiful volume presents a multifaceted portrait of two fiercely independent communities that are as much rural desert communities as they are states of mind.
Inhabitants of small towns in the middle of big, empty spaces are generally protective and not welcoming to outsiders. Over time, Littky built up a trust and rapport with the subjects of Baker and Beatty who welcomed her into their homes, work places, and recreation spots to photograph them. Littky captures intimate domestic scenes, colorful saloons and restaurants, gun shops and tire shops, mobile homes, and bingo halls that together bring the everyday lives of her subjects to vivid relief against the beautiful but unrelenting desert landscape.
In one photograph an elderly man is seated in a turquoise recliner in a state of reverie seemingly oblivious to two paintings hanging on the wall behind him showing lusty cowboys having their way with a partially naked woman. In another picture, a man wearing a cowboy hat is seated alone at a window table at a restaurant; a sign on the outside of the window reads "Welcome Cowboys." Other images show a tender moment between a young couple in their motel room, a gun shop owner proudly holding a rifle, and autographed bank notes papering the ceiling of a saloon. The suggestion that Baker and Beatty have fallen on hard times is revealed in photographs that include a languishing motel swimming pool, broken motel lounge chairs, a medical clinic with a fraying sign, and a burned out truck.
In Vacancy Littky reveals two communities populated by hardy, idiosyncratic individuals that stick together and persevere against all odds. The book reveals a way of life that seems to defy how the rest of the increasingly fast-paced urbanized country operates.
Littky photographs in film and lights most of her shots. Her lighting combined with the harsh, glaring light of the desert renders hyper realistic photographic tableaux that are melancholy, disorienting and sometimes surreal.
Pamela Littky's unique relationship to her subjects and sense of humor has left an indelible imprint on her work. Known for her portraiture of high-profile personalities, her signature is capturing her subjects intimately and unpretentiously in seemingly unguarded moments. In between shoots of world-famous actors and musicians for top commercial and editorial clients, Littky pursues personal projects that show a decidedly less glamorous but completely compelling side of American culture. Littky extends the same emotional, slightly absurd aesthetic that distinguishes her environmental portraits to her self-directed projects. Her intense immersion in the rural desert towns of Baker, California and Beatty, Nevada over the course of four years serves as the basis for her first monograph Vacancy (Kehrer, Fall 2014). Her work is influenced and informed by such master practitioners as Joel Sternfeld, Larry Sultan, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Diane Arbus.
Littky's roster of commercial clients includes: CBS, Entertainment Weekly, FOX, Interview, Oglivy & Mather, Out, People, Sony UK, The Guardian, Atlantic Records, Capitol Records, ESPN The Magazine, Flaunt, MTV, Nike, Paramount Pictures, Rolling Stone, Time, Universal and Wired, to name a few.
Among her awards and honors are AP30 Archive Finalist in 2014 for her series Building for America's Bravest/Travis, Sharon and Arie, and Coney Island; One Shot: One World Honorable Mentions in 2014 for Kid Cudi, Blue Bus, Steve Martin, and Middle of Nowhere; Communication Arts Honorable Mention in 2011; IPB/Lucie Awards Honorable Mention in 2011; and PDN Photo Awards Honorable Mention in 2006. Her work has been shown in various exhibitions around the country, including in Los Angeles and New York City. Littky has a BFA in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona.