Hayley Austin
The Springs

When she was eight years old, photographer Hayley Austin spent the summer in her grandparents’ air-conditioned gem in Las Vegas – in a neighbourhood where the streets are named for Italian villages. This city, once supplied with water by subterranean springs and named after green meadows, is now a city of dreams cemented with desert sand, a symbol of quick fame. Many come to the desert metropolis and hope that hard work will lead to a good job and a home of their own, or at least that they will be able to take a break from everyday life. However, poverty and homelessness are on the rise in Las Vegas. No other American city has a greater difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. Hayley Austin draws a picture of a society of exuberant optimists and suntanned, weary people who admit that the American Dream is as dry as the springs that once made Las Vegas green.

  • Artificiality
  • Beauty
  • Optimisation
  • Play
  • USA

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Photographer Hayley Austin talks about her project and gives some insights into her soon to be published photobook.

»I hate to say this, said my attorney as we sat down at the merry-go-round bar on the second balcony, but this place is getting to me.

Nonsense. I said. We came here to find the American dream and now that we’re right on the vortex you want to quit. I grabbed his bicep, You must realize that we’ve found the main nerve.

I know, he said. That’s what gives me the fear.«

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
3 Questions
1. The door opener: Can you describe a formative moment in your career as a visual journalist?

When I started this project, I wasn’t following a story that was breaking news. It’s like writing a novel and knowing the theme, but having no idea who the characters will be, or what plot it will follow. In Las Vegas, I realised I had to push through the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing that and to keep working until I figured it out. Sometimes you know things on a subconscious level and if you trust your instinct and keep photographing, the ideas your subconscious was trying to articulate will emerge.

2. The decisive moment: When did you first encounter your topic and why did you decide to cover it photographically?

As a child, I spent a summer in Las Vegas. Even then, its existence baffled and fascinated me – it seemed like such an improbable place, out there in the desert in the middle of nowhere. It lodged itself in my memory, unresolved. I graduated from college in 2008 amidst the financial crisis, and moved to Europe. For the next ten years, I observed my country from afar; it seemed that a profound shift was taking place. Barack Obama was elected on the optimistic slogan “Yes we can”, playing on the hopes of Americans and our dreams. But eight years later, the presidency was won on a slogan that exploited our fear. While campaigning to “make America great again” Trump said, “The American dream is dead”, and his election proved that for a part of the population, he had hit a nerve. I thought again of Las Vegas. It was built in the image of get-rich-fast capitalism. This unlikely place, a reminder of the optimism or sheer willpower of the people who converted a mirage into a dream city, was the perfect place for a close-up on the American dream’s status.

3. The future: What could the visual journalism of the future be like?

It’s a difficult question to answer because the ground is shifting beneath our feet. Magazines dedicated to serious visual journalism face shrinking readership and loss of advertisers. The good news is that people have an unquenchable thirst for good storytelling. It seems quite probable that in visual journalism, virtual reality will grow in importance and prevalence. VR’s journalistic possibilities are vast – not only in showing the story, but placing the viewer in it.

Found in Research

Online Shop to order the book “The Springs”.

Curated by Moritz Lehmann

© for all photos by the photographers
© for videos Lumix Festival Hanover, if not indicated otherwise.

*1984 in Fort Worth, USA
In 2015, Hayley Austin completed her studies with a master’s degree of Photography from Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. Since then, she has lived in Hamburg and worked as a freelance photographer and picture editor. The main focus of her work is portrait photography and people’s relationships with their surroundings. Austin’s photography has been shown in the USA and Europe.


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