Las Vegas No. 15 (2002)

"Advancing the Moment: Recent Work by California Photographers" is on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through Jan. 7.


Twelve years ago, Henry Wessel began skulking around in the middle of the night. The photographs he made then, mostly of Santa Monica bungalows in moonlight or porch light, were eerie. This photograph of a Las Vegas hotel corridor, at the same ungodly hour, is glaring. The head-on flash ricochets off brass and marble; it even bounces back from the painting.

Ungodly is the word for what goes on, I presume, behind closed doors in Las Vegas after midnight. In Santa Monica, Wessel was interested in such human drama. "Something horrible happened in the house 30 years ago," someone told him, referring to one picture in particular, "and the couple hasn't spoken since." Yet the Santa Monica pictures keep us at a distance because they're black-and-white prints of modest dimensions.

The Las Vegas prints in the exhibition invite us in because they're scaled up to life-size. It's as if we were walking down this corridor ourselves; we become a party to whatever is going on. But this time Wessel, perverse as ever, locks us out with blinding light in a dead-end hallway. His interest in Las Vegas is architectural, not psychological. In a town as glitzy as this one, he's decided, "the true function of [Las Vegas] architecture is facade." The whole place is a hall of mirrors.

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