Lindsay Hebberd's new book challenges the public perceptionof "Sin City" and reveals Vegas as the cultural heart of America.
Enigma, excitement, energy: Las Vegas is a great many things to many people. But as Lindsay Hebberd's new book attests, the city that never sleeps — and never stops growing or gambling, either — continues to inspire the world's imagination.
"Las Vegas ~ Imagination to Reality" is a big book, both literally and figuratively. Following the success of her previous works that showcased cultural life in India and Indonesia, Hebberd made a radical subject shift by moving to Las Vegas nearly six years ago. There, she embarked on a book project that got her intimately involved with the heart, mind and soul of this eclectic and dynamic city.
"I've worked in over 50 countries, and Las Vegas is one of the happiest places I've ever been. This is where people come to have a good time," says Hebberd, best known for her photographs of people and places in some of the world's most intriguing and picturesque locales. Throughout her career, her images have expertly framed the spirit and essence of her subjects, and her work in Las Vegas is no different.
"Las Vegas is the quintessential Americana city," Hebberd says. "Las Vegas defines America: It's a young city, a magnet for talent. Every architect, every performer wants to work in Vegas. Vegas culture is imported from all over." Her book contains 553 images that showcase the diversity of industries and communities that make Las Vegas one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.
"Las Vegas provides people with an amazing choice of experiences," Hebberd says. "Whatever is imaginable can become a reality in this city.If you have the dream and talent, you can make it happen here."
Anatomy of a book project
From awe-inspiring photographs of Cirque de Soleil's latest production, "KÀ," to the Bellagio Conservatory's colorful celebrations, to amazing night aerials of the Strip, Hebberd's latest book flaunts her technical acumen and attention to detail.
Hebberd's goal was to compile a comprehensive volume that highlights the breadth of what Las Vegas has to offer. That meant fully immersing herself in the city's social calendar, a challenging feat in a place that used to be called "Sin City."
Drawing on her experience in self-publishing her books showcasing cultural portraits in India and Indonesia, Hebberd decided to produce her own Las Vegas book with a small team of hired talent. As founder and president of Cultural Portraits Productions, she has produced a series of solo books and exhibitions, and knows what it takes to secure funding and tap marketing channels.
"There's a different character to the way the properties target their marketing dollars in Las Vegas," she says. "I learned very quickly that if I approached a property with my idea, I would be limited to doing a book on just that property. To me, that wouldn't represent Vegas. So I decided to publish the book independently."
Making the decision to self-publish gave Hebberd full creative control over the project. "I wanted to do a book that's a kaleidoscope of Las Vegas: comprehensive, interesting and of top-notch quality."
Hebberd is part of an elite roster of photographers and publishers who are involved in virtually every aspect of their book projects. Last year, she spent two and a half months in India to oversee the printing of the book. To save money, she scheduled its printing to coincide with the reprint of her 1998 book, "Cultural Portraits of India."
As a publisher, Hebberd takes pride in the fact that she is quite hands-on in terms of quality control. "I pretty much worked on this book every day for the past five years," she says. "Quality is very important to me. I put in so much of my blood, sweat, tears, time and money, and I invested 100 percent of myself in this book. I wanted it to be something that I can be really proud of."
Soon after moving to Las Vegas in 2002, Hebberd immediately began laying the groundwork for her project. "I started researching everything that's available here to see what the casinos, nightclubs and hotels have to offer," she explains. "I scanned the newspapers to look for community events and festivals — things that are of interest to people who live here."
To gain entry to the Vegas scene, Hebberd covered events and shot photos for her friend, Frank Lieberman, who writes an entertainment column for the Las Vegas Israelite, a locally published bimonthly newspaper with an international focus. In time she found herself on a plethora of media lists, receiving many invitations to the hottest shows and events.
"I put together a checklist of things I wanted to include in the book," she says. "I wanted to get an accurate overall representation of Las Vegas. The city is continuously evolving with new shows and new structures."
Because there was always so much going on, how did she manage to set priorities and determine when the project was done?
"The more people I met and more people who learned what I was working on, the more invites I received to photograph different events," Hebberd says. "On a Friday night, I'd get media invitations to two or three major events. It could be Liza Minnelli at a private function at the Luxor, or Kenny Loggins on the floating stage at Lake Las Vegas. It was a constant process of filling in the blanks on my checklist of subjects that I wanted to include in the book."
There were many serendipitous moments throughout the course of the project. For Hebberd, being at the right place at the right time meant opening doors to remarkable opportunities. "I was up on top of the Rio [Casino] one night, and the Sanyo blimp was in town," she recalls. "The pilot was given permission to fly as far south as the Luxor. When he flew in toward the Luxor, the beam on top of the pyramid pierced the blimp, amid the city lights."
After tracking down the Sanyo officials who owned the blimp, Hebberd showed them the photograph. "They wanted the picture for corporate boardrooms, so we ended up making a trade-out of prints with a chance to shoot from the blimp," she says.
Prior to this arrangement, all of Hebberd's aerials had been shot from helicopters. However, photographing Las Vegas from the blimp was a true privilege, she says. "Vegas is very beautiful at night: It's the most lit-up city in the world. ... The photos I have from the blimp are predominantly night shots because there is very little or no vibration on the blimp. I wouldn't have been able to take those pictures with a still camera from a helicopter."
Doing it right
As the photography aspect of her book project drew to a close, so began the legwork necessary to secure permissions from appropriate parties.
Hebberd was adamant in making sure that the project was done right. She took seriously the proprietary considerations in ensuring approval from property owners, agents and performers' guilds.
Despite her track record in producing award-winning photographs, as well as the success of her Indian and Indonesian projects, securing permissions was no easy task.
"I realized that it was easier for property owners to simply say no, because they'd had negative experiences with photographers who did something to infringe or violate their trademarks," she explains. "I'm a very long-term person; I live here. I didn't want to burn any bridges."
For Hebberd, that meant going through the right channels, which often involved a succession of bureaucratic layers, to gain permissions and ensure accurate information for photo captions.
"Las Vegas is a big city, but, at its heart, it's a small town," she says. "Within that circle, everybody knows everybody. I wanted to make sure that everyone would be happy with what I'm producing. I contacted every entity in the book; every individual, every production show, every agent, public relations firm and event organizer. That process took an incredibly long time, but it was well worth it."
The best compliment for Hebberd? "Many of the people I worked with told me that I was the only photographer and publisher who went to great lengths to make sure that the information in the book was accurate."
Among the most memorable and challenging performances she photographed was Cirque de Soleil's production of "KÀ." "It's one of the most fantastic shows in Vegas, set on a horizontal stage that rotates to become a vertical stage," she says.
"Lighting was very challenging, and it's a fast-moving production. Technically, it was a very difficult show to photograph."
A particularly heartfelt joy for Hebberd was shooting at Opportunity Village, one of her favorite charity organizations, which provides work opportunities for special-needs and physically challenged adults and young adults. "One thing about Vegas that is not very well known is that it is one of the most generous cities," she notes. "There are many charity events available for helping people in need."
The next big thing
Never content to rest on her laurels, Lindsay Hebberd has already set her sights on a sequel to "Las Vegas ~ Imagination to Reality" that would document the city's seemingly endless new development.
"Las Vegas is always evolving, and it is changing so fast," she says.
"The best and the brightest builders and architects all want to put their thumbprints on Vegas."
In addition, Hebberd is looking forward to starting a similar project to capture the unique offerings of Dubai. She plans to produce "Dubai ~ Imagination to Reality" and a sequel to the Las Vegas book by 2010 or 2011. "Dubai, like Vegas, is developing at an astronomical pace," she says. "It aspires to challenge Las Vegas as the ‘tourism capital of the world.'"