An Interview with: Jack Minto
Growing from concerns with social issues and affected communities, University of the West of England graduate Jack Minto spent a month living in Las Vegas in an attempt to create a body of work that opposed common external perceptions of the city as solely luxurious tourist hotspot.
Maryland Parkway takes its' title from a nondescript road that sits two miles East of the Vegas strip. This road - like many others surrounding South Las Vegas Boulevard - is a poverty-stricken area that many displaced and disenfranchised locals call their home. The city that has for so long represented the idyllic promises of the American dream quickly became a representation of the stark contrast of wealth and poverty that sit side by side in American society.
What were your main concerns when approaching this subject?
I went to Las Vegas with a different project in mind. My preconceived notion of the city was one of luxury, excess and wealth, and I was intrigued by how this was surrounded by the barren and desolate landscape of the Nevada Desert. I was staying in a hostel which sat close to one end of Maryland Parkway and was using a lab to develop my film that was at the other end, so walking up and down this road was a regular occurrence. I found that the people I was encountering and the neglected location in which they were living in challenged my understanding of Las Vegas. I became far more interested in exploring how poverty sat so close to the Las Vegas I had previously imagined. As a photographer, it’s a privileged position to interpret an idea, a group or issue through photographs, so I was concerned with how the local community would accept me. Coming from a middle class background in the UK, I often questioned how I could justify making work about a community I was so detached from.
How did your internship at Magnum influence your current practice?
I recently finished my BA in photography. When I started my degree I was fairly new to it, I hadn’t studied photography at school or at foundation level, having made only a small amount of work previously. I perhaps belong to a new group of photographers who, like me, discovered photography through content sharing sites like Tumblr and Instagram. Even though I developed a grasp on the history of photography through my BA, I somewhat felt out of my depth during my internship with Magnum. However, I was more concerned with learning about the commercial operations of Magnum and experiencing the business of photography.
If you could name an exhibition or publication that profoundly influenced you to the point we’re at now, what might it be and why?
Romke Hoogwaerts and Grace Leigh released the 3rd issue of a publication called Mossless in 2014. This issue catalogued work by over 100 photographers from 2003 to 2013 on the theme of America. I carried this publication around almost religiously and referenced it often. I was fascinated by how America was photographed and I don’t think ’Maryland Parkway’ would have happened without it.
Do you wish you’d done anything differently as an undergraduate?
Worried less. I was always impatient with projects that I was working on and was always in a rush to get to the result.
What are you watching right now?
Plenty of documentaries on cults. ‘Wild Wild Country’ is a must see.
Your portraits evoke a sense of solemnity and comfort, as though you had already managed to assimilate within your months’ visit. How difficult was it to reach that point of rapport with the local community? Did you ever feel like an outsider?
Despite Maryland Parkway having little reason to be visited by most foreigners who travel to Vegas, I was surprised how my British accent didn’t stick out as much as I thought it would. My bulky medium format camera did however spout some interest. People were very open, I felt like a lot of people I photographed were just waiting to tell their stories. These people became familiar to me as towards the second half of my stay, I was visiting Maryland Parkway almost daily. The relationship between myself and my subjects grew quickly despite the short time I was there.
Did you approach Maryland Parkway from any particular social, cultural or political standpoint?
As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t intended on embarking on this exact project. I arrived in Las Vegas only a few days after Trump had been elected. I was expecting to see something about it or overhear people discussing it but it didn’t happen. It felt like Vegas was detached from the outside world, particularly the strip.
Might you ever revisit the Nevada desert to extend your project / oeuvre?
My time making work in Vegas has come to a close I believe. However, completing this body of work has fuelled my interest in making more work in the US. I am fascinated by the idea of wealth and poverty sitting side by side in America and the myth of the American dream.