September 14, 2013
Michael Light's photos of the western U.S. sun belt cities are taken from a two-seater plane that he pilots himself. This provides an Olympian or hawk’s-eye view view of the western landscape that is photographed with a Linhof Aero Technika.
Examples are the Ascaya luxury housing development, Black Mountain, Nevada, which has lain dormant since the economic crash of 2008 and Lake Las Vegas, a complex of luxury housing, country clubs and casinos fringing an artificial lake.
Michael Light, Unbuilt Ascaya development looking Southeast, Black Mountain, 2012
The Ascaya development is based on mountaintop removal and terracing and it looks like an empty mining camp. The building boom is finished and the developers have mostly departed or gone bust, leaving behind a landscape that will define the city and landscape for decades.
This kind of development represents a failure to understand the desert, its ecosystem, its light and heat; a failure to live with respect for the community and the natural surroundings. It represents a blindness to context.
Michael Light,Barcelona homes and the edge of Lake Mead recreation area. Lake Las Vegas, Henderson, NV 2011.
The Sun Belt cities experienced the most rapid growth of any American urban area in the early 21st century, and were the hardest hit in the economic downtown after the Global Financial Crisis. The developers replicated the winning formula in Las Vegas, which had made them so much money in the rest of the Sun Belt. The model was suburban sprawl, cheap land and the mass production of homes in a sharply limited variety of models. They built with the assumption that growth in the valley — of residents, tourists, consumers — would lead to profitability.