Intergalactic Art Car Festival

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On a very windy Saturday evening, a vacant lot in downtown Las Vegas was transformed into a futurist light and fire show. Members of the community were drawn to the event like bugs are seduced by lantern light on a dark, summer night.

For one evening, we had our own little Burning Man in the desert. Decorated cars and sculptures suddenly transformed and moved, all seemingly fueled by the surrounding upbeat techno music. Children laughed and pointed as parents and young lovers alike took photos and danced. People came as they were and left with a smile in their heart. That’s the funny thing about art; it moves you.

Photographer note: All images shot on iPhone X. Ronda Churchill is a freelance photographer based in Las Vegas available for hire worldwide.

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Grandma’s Camera, part 2

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Charlene Cecilia Wolf

(March 22, 1928- April 22, 2018)

Charlene, beloved mother of 6, grandmother of 13 and great grandmother to many passed away peacefully with family at her side. My mother, whose own mother passed away very tragically in a car wreck, was with Charlene as final breaths were taken. My mother knew her mother-in-law longer than her own mother. Charlene was “mom” to many.

Weeks ago, I wrote an unpublished blog post when I returned from Illinois after spending quality time with my grandmother. I have saved those words and will revisit them at a later time.

In Illinois, I photographed my grandmother on a day that she felt well. We looked at my prints from a previous trip that I exposed with her mother’s camera, ate popcorn, talked about grandpa and his visits in her dreams, and exchanged stories about his “pennies from heaven.” I even witnessed my grandmother’s very first manicure. She chose an electric teal that a nurse named “I’ve-never-done-this-before Blue.”

In the photograph, one of two frames I took on the 100-year old Brownie, tiny paper hearts hang in a tree behind her. The hearts revealed handwritten notes to loved ones of past and present and were left over tokens from Valentine’s Day at the care center.

In the image, my grandmother wears one of her favorite shirts, her hair is full, her nails are painted, and she has a slight smile. I know today that her smile is huge because she is no longer in pain, is not afraid, and is reunited with the love of her life.

Thank you, grandma, for being you. You will be missed by your big family.

Author’s note: See previous blog post for Grandma’s Camera, part 1

Grandma’s Camera, part 1

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Brownie 120 film: ocotillo cactus in Baja California, Mexico

I will always remember the first photograph I developed in a darkroom– the U.S. flag flapping in the wind before the St. Louis Arch. The photo, which I shot on my parent’s Minolta camera, popped to life in the developing solution in the soft red light before me. I was immediately hooked. Photography has always been in my blood.

Before the Minolta, I grew up around the fine arts of music, drawing, painting, writing and dance. Even though I was playing impressive six-page sonatinas on the piano in middle school, my first formal photography class wasn’t until my first year of college. It so happened that my favorite drawing class shared the same hall as a photography class. My attention kept driving me to the photo class’ open door.

Well before college, I had begged my parents for a Polaroid camera, which would be the very first camera that I owned. I still have hoards of Polaroid photographs of my stuffed animals, best friends, siblings and vacations. That camera was the first of many cameras.

Several years ago, my grandparents moved out of the house where they raised their six children, and my grandmother gave personal items she wished to pass on to her 13 grandchildren. I wasn’t surprised to find that she gave me a compact Kodak No. 2 Folding Autographic Brownie that exposed 120 film through its nice bellows. Included with the camera was its original instructions manual complete with a $3 price tag. I kept the treasured camera within a collection of other old cameras I had accumulated as gifts from family members. This sort of collection is fairly typical of a professional photographer. All who have “the eye” are really drawn to the history of our passion.

However, it was not until my grandmother fell ill last month that an intense need to shoot with the camera grew within me. I wanted to take photos to show her, and I desperately wanted to make her proud. When I told her of my plan, she informed me that the camera was her mother’s, my great-grandmother’s, and that the camera that I held was approximately 100 years old.

So when my husband and I planned a five-day road trip, a trek that would take us south through the desert of Southern California and into Mexico along the Sea of Cortez, there was no question that I would include the Brownie in my arsenal of film cameras for the trip. Along with the Brownie, I chose to bring a plastic $30 Holga camera I had since college, including a partially exposed roll of 120 film inside it. I also chose a 1970s 35mm Canon AE-1 with a fixed 50mm f1.8 lens. I was set with these three film cameras plus my iPhone and a digital Sony mirrorless. To say my husband is a patient travel companion is an understatement.

All the posted images were shot on one of three film camera bodies. All frames are scanned prints with minimal toning. Imperfections in the prints are due to several factors such as: age of the film, light leaks, dust (especially on my grandmother’s Brownie), and wear/tear of cameras.

Next month, I have a flight home to St. Louis to visit my grandmother and to celebrate her 90th birthday. At this time, I truly hope we can have a lovely discussion, and I will take the prints with me, although she’s a hip lady and will most likely already see these digital prints here. Lastly, I plan to make a portrait of her with the third-generation Brownie. After all, my camera was designed for this very thing.

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist living in Las Vegas. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

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Brownie 120 film: Cadrón cactus in Baja California, Mexico

 

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Holga 120 film: sunset near the Sea of Cortez in Mexico (l). A home in Bombay Beach at Salton Sea, California (r)

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Holga 120 film: Double exposures at Kelso Dunes, California

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Canon 35mm film: Playa Hawaii in Baja California, Mexico (top & bottom left); Bombay Beach in Salton Sea, California (top right); Detail of sand at Kelso Dunes, California (bottom right)

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Canon 35mm film: Ocotillo Cactus in Baja California, Mexico (l), dunes at Glamis, California (r)

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Holga 120 film: East Jesus, Slab City, California (l), Bombay Beach in Salton Sea, California (r)

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Brownie 120 film: Sea of Cortez at sunrise

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My great-grandmother’s Kodak No.2 Autographic Brownie (l), a portion of my film camera collection including the Brownie, top right, and instruction manual (r)

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My grandmother Charlene with me and my brother (l) and her with one of her many great-grandchildren (r)

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Portrait at the Salton Sea (l) and working at Kelso Dunes (r). Photographs by my husband Jim on my iPhone.

Adults Only

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A model that goes by Weed Slut 420 sinks into a ball pit on the showroom floor.

Close your eyes and imagine you could visit a place where you are immersed in adult sex fantasy. Open your eyes. You are at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

For the third consecutive year, I attended and documented real-time erotica and was one of more than 50,000 attendees. Everything sex, including: well-known adult entertainment stars, “Cam Girls” live streaming for tips, loads of all types of bedroom toys and apparel, and fetish demonstrations can be seen in one bustling hotel convention space that hosts a multitude of mainstream events and concerts at any other time of the year.

It takes quite a mind shift to exit a typical Vegas casino space, passing blinking machines and tourists, in order to enter a world of sex where anything and everything goes.

Standing in security near the main halls, one may see a woman leading a chained man wearing a head mask. Sex slaves and their masters also attend the show. And for the price of less than $100, you can attend too. However, attendees and media alike must sign an agreement that states touching and inappropriate behavior with models and exhibitors is strictly prohibited. The master and her masked man must have arrived together.

The expo prefaces the main card of the Adult Video News Awards and red carpet event, where the biggest names in adult entertainment walk a red carpet, weaving through the casino length, to an awards ceremony for the previous year’s film work.

Since 2012, Hard Rock Hotel has hosted the AVN Awards and expo each year in January shortly after the culmination of the city’s massive Consumer Electronics Show. Whether visitors to Sin City are viewing larger-than-life home electronics or adult stars, January in Las Vegas will not disappoint.

*Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist working in Las Vegas and can be booked at http://www.rondachurchill.com Follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

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A model stands among confetti at the VIXEN booth.

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An elderly man, left, takes a photograph of customized adult toys while another attendee gives a closer inspection.

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Jean, center and last name withheld, participates in a whip demonstration.

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(top left) Juniper, a Cam Girl, flirts with a client while live-streaming at the convention. (top right)  A Cam Girl’s computer is adorned with stickers and external lighting. (bottom) AK Ginger Snaps is illuminated by a modeling light at a live-streaming booth.

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Mr. Bunny XXX roams the showroom floor to hand out self promotional materials.

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Anja models her homemade embellished bra.

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Adverts for online entertainers, pens, pins and condoms are displayed on a freebies table.

 

 

 

 

Halloween on Fremont

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A woman from Texas dressed as a nun plays a slot machine at The D hotel-casino.

Halloween might be my favorite holiday. People stress over which home or city to celebrate in and what food and gifts to give for nearby Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Halloween offers a much more fun opportunity to gather with friends and family. Throw in the fun of costumes, and it’s a win-win holiday.

As New Orleans is to Mardi Gras, Las Vegas is quickly trending to be a Halloween hotspot. Since Las Vegas is the city that celebrates everything weird and wacky, it should come as no surprise that Halloween is big here. Nearly every establishment features a unique gathering.

Perhaps I favor the holiday more than the average person because I met my husband on a blind date six years ago on Halloween. We ducked from the evening sun into a dark bar on Las Vegas’ historic Fremont Street in 2011. What I noticed more than his Dos Equis beer’s “Most Interesting Man In The World” costume were his kind demeanor, honest personality and nice hands. My husband says that I was engaging and had a good smile. I like to think I conveyed a warm personality despite being dressed as a dead prom queen.

Afterward, we walked under the famous nearby canopy to “people watch,” which is still one of our favorite social pastimes. As we walked, a cluster of people all dressed as Where’s Waldo? ran past us. We took an elevator to the top of a lookout area to view costumed pedestrians, and we commented with laugher on the most unusual ensembles.

At the end of our brief evening, I made him stand for a photo next to an arcade game not unlike the fortune teller machine in Tom Hank’s cult classic “Big.” The customized case before us featured the bust of an old man named Pappy. My date, who wore a month’s long beard that was dyed gray and little commercial branding for his costume, resembled the old man puppet ever so slightly.

This Halloween, when I drove down the never-ending loops of the casino parking garage, I commented to my sleepy and slurry husband that this particular evening was my favorite evening of all of 2017. We had such a fantastic time revisiting “our bar,” people watching with an older Minnesota couple on “our” overview looking spot, and walking the length of the canopy in our costumes. I was Lucy. He was Charlie Brown complete with football. We handed out Halloween candy from a gift bag to the children we encountered, and we even accumulated extra treats from people thinking that we were trick-or-treating.

There is no denying the encompassing and exciting vibe that is Halloween on Fremont Street. It is one that begs to be witnessed. For those who were not lucky enough to see it in person, I offer up this treat.

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist available for hire. You can follow her on instagram @rondachurchill

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Pam and John Casteel, of Michigan, are dressed as cock hunters. “Well, weve been doing Halloween every year that we have been together. It’s been 44 years,” he said.

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A young man wearing a Snow White dress weaves his way through the crowd on Fremont Street.

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People walk along Fremont Street under the canopy (left), a man participating in a group costume wears shot glasses in place of rounds of bullets and holds a beer.

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A man in a customer pours beer into a plastic glass outside a souvenir shop. Glass containers are not permitted on the street.

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A woman in a flapper costume stares at her losing 75-cent ticket after playing the slots.

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A couple in costume walks along Fremont Street.

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Russell Nunley, of Salt Lake City, looks at his phone while dressed as Elliott from E.T. He purchased the basket he holds for $5 from a manager at Albertons grocery store.

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Photos in our home of my husband, left, and I on the night we met.

#vegas

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Two shattered windows are shown where mass shooter Stephen Paddock, of Mesquite, Nev., took aim down on innocent concert attendees.

(copied from original post that appeared on my Instagram page (@rondachurchill) on Monday, Oct. 2 at 10 p.m.)

I still can’t seem to put this day to rest. These are the windows, one with curtains billowing from it, the other several panels to the left of first, where a shooter took aim and ambushed people attending an outdoor festival across the Las Vegas Strip. Last week, I was photographing all day at the same concert venue and stepped out for an hour to capture photos from the rooftop of this same hotel. Security escorted me. The view was breathtaking.

This morning, I was on the Strip at sunrise working alongside friends, colleagues and professionals in this business we call home. We saw heartache, tears, blood and displaced people. After being on scene for 90 minutes, I was forced into an emergency evacuation while editing inside a nearby property. In those first, heart-pounding moments, I thought to myself, “This is it. It’s happening again.” I knew I wasn’t the only one thinking this as I ran with tourists and employees. Everyone was going different directions. I was told to hide in the bathroom or run outside to the pool. Luckily, it was a false alarm, but the incident ignited my veins with fear and adrenaline. This is what those concert attendees felt, but infinitely worse–bullets and chaos and carnage. The most awful part and the most extreme unfair and unkind thing in the entire world is that some of them do not get to write about it to feel better.

For those of you who have suffered great loss today, I hope that you find peace.

1-866-535-5654, for families trying to locate loved ones

lvmpd.com for blood donation sites

Author note: Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist based in Las Vegas for the past 14 years. She is available for assignment anytime. Email: rkchurchill@aol.com

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Survivors of the mass shooting make their way back to their hotel room shortly after sunrise.

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A single vase of roses is shown on Las Vegas Boulevard the morning after a mass shooting occurred nearby.

Day 1 in Nevada

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Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Nev, center, is swarmed by the news media while making the first purchase of the morning at The Reef Dispensary.

My dashboard clock displayed 2:10 a.m., and I was stuck in a McDonald’s drive-thru sandwiched between a truck and a car, with shrubbery to my right. I looked to the intercom, where a voice minutes earlier had asked me to “please hold,” and I stared in a tired trance at a hand-written sign taped to it that read: The ONLY sauces we have are: ketchup, mustard and spicy mustard. ONLY.

I wanted to scream. I still had one dispensary left to photograph for my Day 1 coverage assignment for Leafly.com, one of my favorite freelance clients to work for these days. Legal recreational marijuana sales for adults age 21 and over in Nevada had begun at midnight.

After I languished 20 minutes in the drive-thru, an exhausted looking manager finally handed me my Happy Meal and giant cup of water (they were sold out of bottled water, too) with a sigh and a “thank you for being patient.” I thought that it was appropriate that the only place open at 2 a.m. near the dispensaries was short-handed and out of everything.

Hours earlier, I had started my evening at Essence Cannabis, the only dispensary that has a Las Vegas Strip address. There I found a growing line of excited individuals and loads of fellow journalists. I quickly got to work photographing the line outside, then went inside behind the counter to get close-ups of the goods: strains of marijuana in vials that resembled blood-collection tubes; square “sniff jars” – containers that let customers inspect samples at an intimate olfactory level; edibles in the form of cookies and gummies; and even colorful, swirly smoking pipes.

When I tried to leave Essence, my car was blocked by a delivery truck. It felt as though everyone in Las Vegas was right where I was at that exact moment. Eventually, I was able to move on to my next stop: Reef Dispensary.

At Reef, the vibe was quite different. I found myself in the center of a giant party. Characters passed me wearing neon clothes and wildly colored hair while Average Joe types scuffled about in their jeans and sneakers, maneuvering the crowded space, making way for disabled patrons. In addition to a hefty line, there were food trucks, weed-related sponsors with merchandise, and a large, rotating spotlight that screamed for miles: “This is the place to be!”

It was close to midnight, and media chaos ensued. I was trying to stay near the front door and state Sen. Tick Segerblom, whom I needed to photograph, when an unannounced firework show exploded in the dark sky. Of course it did. This beautiful firework shot would be best captured from across the street.

I made a quick decision to skip the firework photo I envisioned and stay close to the senator. Immediately after the fireworks ended, security ushered me and some 25 other members of the media through the door so we could capture the first marijuana purchase of the morning, by the senator. Did I mention Southern Nevada is a pretty cool place to live?

Having calculated carefully in advance, I knew I had roughly 30 minutes to get everything I needed inside the dispensary – shots of the senator, scene setters and a couple interview shots – before I had to edit for my 1:30 a.m. deadline.

I left Reef on schedule and decided that editing photos in my car in a shady, industrial area at 12:30 a.m. was not a good idea. I quickly drove to the nearest open place to set up shop, which happened to be the luxurious Palace State hotel-casino. Google it.

I scurried through the familiar casino to find an area I knew might have an open table and a sandwich shop where I could grab some much-needed water. The tables were there – full; the sandwich shop was there – empty and closed. I was more than disappointed, but then saw I that the nearby Sportsbook was deserted on the one side that contained rows of tables where, during the day, older gentlemen would sit with cigars and scorecards watching the ponies on TV.

I edited marijuana photos, undisturbed, for an hour next to another late-night worker at his computer. It was as good an office as I could have asked for, albeit I longed for a giant glass of water – or something stronger.

After I was content that my initial deadline was fulfilled, I drove from the casino to the Golden Arches across the street, blissfully unaware that I was about to be stranded in drive-thru limbo.

When I finally, graciously accepted my Happy Meal from Mr. Nice Manager, I chugged the entire cup of water, then stuffed a few fries into my mouth as I drove to Oasis, the last dispensary on my list. I sat in the dark parking lot eating nuggets until 2:45 a.m. Leafly needed my entire submits toned and captioned by 6 a.m., so I gave myself a new deadline: Be home by 4 a.m., which left me about 45 minutes at this last destination to make magic happen.

Oasis Medical Cannabis had clearly been a party earlier in the night. Nude models wearing paint wandered around with beers; a taco cart was closing up shop; people were socializing in the spotlights that lit the dark area where a strong line of people waited to get into the dispensary at nearly 3 a.m. In the parking lot later, I ran into an artist friend of mine, who had been painting at the party earlier in the evening. He had a gorgeous body-painted model with him, who was doing all sorts of acrobatics near a spotlight.

I made my way to security and into the dispensary. A first room held an abundance of people who had their ID’s checked and were waiting to get into The Coveted Room, a larger space that had bud specialists and product, where orders were placed on iPads. A waiting area with ATM branched off that room, where customers patiently waited for their orders to be filled. The whole process was a waiting room inside a bigger waiting room with a long waiting line outside. I have never seen so many people jammed into one space, except for perhaps at any Las Vegas branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Oasis’ customers were superbly more calm and friendly than any person I have ever encountered at the DMV. By the time I finished my shots – including some frames of my artist friend and his companion, it was nearing 4 a.m. I still had to do my final edits.

At home, I wearily completed my work. Sunrise was lighting the room as I crawled into bed to snuggle up to my snoozing husband at 5:30 a.m. – a half-hour before deadline.

Life, and news, kept happening. By the time my images were published, my invoice was sent in (including that McDonald’s meal as a write-off) and the valley was embracing its new law, Las Vegas was running out of pot. And during the first week marijuana was legal, The Reef (my second stop), suffered a brief fire caused by static electricity.

When I had accepted the assignment, I was concerned that I would not be able to edit and think clearly in the smoke- and aroma- filled early morning hours because I do not smoke marijuana. My editor, who also doesn’t smoke, assured me that I would be OK. “You’ll be fine. Oh, you’ll definitely smell like it, but you’ll be fine,” I recall her telling me. Her words were true. My car and camera pouches smelled of the sweet Mary Jane for a good time after. We had rain the other day, and I swear the humidity reignited it all again.

Whatever expectations a journalist has before going into an assignment, they are usually wrong. Day 1 wasn’t what I expected at all; it was much more. It was a great night’s work, an experience I will never forget. Also, if my future children have questions about marijuana, I am sure to have a story to tell.

 

* for story in Leafly: https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/las-vegas-live-coverage-nevadas-adult-use-cannabis-debut

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Patrons wait in line shortly before the doors open at midnight at Essence Cannabis Dispensary on the Strip.

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Laura Davidson, who wears body paint, poses near a mural, both painted by artist Dray during a Day One party at Oasis Medical Cannabis.

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Dawn Weir, center left, interviews customer Candace Foshee, center right, on a cell phone for a cannabis-themed radio show while customers wait in line behind them at The Reef Dispensary.

 

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Customers wait for their orders to be filled at Oasis Medical Cannabis.

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Patrons waiting in line take and share personal photographs and video on their cell phones of a firework display at to The Reef Dispensary moments before doors open at midnight.