Photos: Life In A Small Town On The Edge Of Death Valley
Two rural desert towns—Baker, California and Beatty, Nevada—both claim they're the "Gateway to Death Valley." Photographer Pamela Littky spent four years snapping pictures of the two cities there, getting an intimate and up-close look at the people who lived there.
Littky, a Los Angeles-based photographer whose repertoire includes shooting famous people from the likes of Jennifer Lawrence to Steve Martin, released her book, Vacancy—a collection of these Gateway to Death Valley photos she took from 2010 to 2013—earlier this month.
Not only did she take beautiful and haunting portraits of the landscape there, but also of the locals there inside their homes, at work and around the Mojave Desert towns. Littky tells LAist that she would ask anyone she met during her trips to Baker and Beatty to sit for a photo for her; that includes people she talked to while sitting at a bar, eating at a restaurant, or pumping gas.
"Once I began meeting and photographing a handful of people, when I’d meet someone new and would mention a previous subject by name, nine times out of ten, they’d know that person and feel that I could be trusted," Littky says.
She first came up with the idea of shooting Baker in 2010 when she was driving on a shoot from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Although she had driven past Baker a dozen times before, this was the first time she noticed the city's sign emblazoned across a municipal water tank; it read, "Welcome to Baker—Gateway to Death Valley." Littky had to continue driving, but she vowed to make a stop next time.
A few months later, she made her way out there to take photos of the rural and urban areas of Baker. Littky says that Baker had "fallen on hard times."
"Each time I returned to Baker, these derelict spaces showed signs of gradual, ongoing disintegration due to vandalism and general disrepair," Littky says.
She later noticed that Beatty, which was located on the other end of the desert, had a similar "Gateway to Death Valley" sign. She called local businesses there and asked the people if she could photograph them.
"I first spoke with Shirley, the owner of Beatty Beauty, a hair salon in a mobile home, and Tony, the 20-something manager of the motel where my assistant and I were to stay," Littky says. "They were both game. I figured once I got a couple people to agree, somehow I could convince the rest of the town."
One of her favorite shots is of Sharon and Arie—in her photo, Arie is resting on their bed at home and Sharon is sitting on the edge of the bed in her bra and underwear. "I love this shot because it’s a deeply intimate moment, and I always felt Sharon’s face told a story," she says.
As Littky got more involved with her project, she got a sense of the people and life in these towns: "You could go to Beatty or Baker if you were trying to disappear from the world, and no one would find you, but you could also very much be a part of a community there and be very involved; it's very community oriented."