21 September 2020

False Promises and Lost Hopes in Las Vegas

21 September 2020 - Written by PhMuseum

Hayley Austin documents the people of Las Vegas and the tension she sees on their faces as they come to terms with the reality that the American dream of personal wealth and success is beyond their grasp.

Like many American children, I was raised on the promise of the American dream that, “you can be anything you want to be.” Just ten years ago Barack Obama was elected on the slogan, “Yes we can” playing on the hopes of Americans and their dreams. In 2016, the presidency was won on a slogan that exploited our fear; “Make America great again” implied that the best days of the country were passed. This slogan and the success of the election made me wonder about the state of the American dream.

At eight, I’d spent the summer with my grandparents in Las Vegas, trapped in the air-conditioned island of their house, on the edge of a city staging an invasion on the desert. Las Vegas predicated on generating money — embodies capitalism and the American dream of personal wealth and success. This unlikely town, a reminder of the optimism or sheer willpower of the people who converted a mirage into a dream city, was perfect for a close up on the American dream’s status.

A century and a half ago, Las Vegas — “the meadows” in Spanish — was an oasis fed by underground springs. The spring dried up long ago, and Lake Mead supplying 90% of the cities' water will follow, yet when I started this project, it was the third-fastest-growing city in America.

The dream that hard work guarantees at least a well-paid job and perhaps homeownership stays for many just that — a dream. Poverty and homelessness are on the rise. No other American city has a bigger gap in life expectancy between rich and poor. This series grew out of my search for the signs of the tension I felt and saw in the faces of people who’ve been raised on a dream of having it all, only to wake up to a different reality.

Some faces reflect giddy optimism, some self-satisfied torpor. Others sunburned and tired, confess that for them the American dream is as dried up as the springs that once made Las Vegas green.

Words and Pictures by Hayley Austin.


Hayley Austin (b. 1984, Texas) earned a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin and a MA from the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. “The Springs” was shortlisted for the PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant and selected for the Łódź Fotofesitval and the LUMIX Festival. Her first book “The Springs” was published by Kris Graves Projects in 2020. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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