Photographs of Nevada, Home of Alien Conspiracy Theories

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Nevada MiragePhotography by Ryan Shorosky

From hazy pink landscapes to UFO ephemera, Ryan Shorosky perfectly captures the mysterious magic of the desert state

Ryan Shorosky is fascinated by Nevada, and his fascination is proving extremely fruitful. For his ongoing series Nevada Mirage, the American photographer has spent lengths of time in the desert state shooting everything from the pastel-hued houses and vast, hazy expanses of land to passing truck drivers and novelty gift shops (some of which double up as brothels).

Nevada is a state steeped in intrigue, due to alien-related conspiracy theories, and its stretches of land have come to be seen as some of the “last parts of the wild American West,” Shorosky tells AnOther over the phone from New York. “Some of it is desolate and so isolated from everything else that it sort of exists in its own universe,” he muses. “But at the same time, it’s a stopping off point for tourists and people travelling through, so you get a mix of culture.”  

It was in 2014, while in the midst of a project that saw him photographing long-haul truck drivers across the country, that Shorosky’s interest was piqued, as he was able to drive through Nevada (a state which has long tempted him) on his travels. Last year Shorosky returned for two weeks with a plan. “I gave myself the premise of driving a loop around all the government land that’s out there – because obviously you can’t drive through any of it – starting at a town called Amargosa Valley and going on to a town called Rachel,” he explains. “Most of Nevada is owned by the federal government, but it’s used for military testing – the Nevada test range is out there which is where the stealth-bomber was developed, and in the 50s that’s where they did all the atomic testing above ground.”

Looking at Nevada Mirage with this knowledge in mind, it’s hard to ignore the eerie quality some of the empty landscapes take on (the image of an abandoned petrol station springs to mind) – which was exactly Shorosky’s way of approaching it. “For me it was never so much about the conspiracies or the kitsch alien aspect to it, but more how that feeds into the aura of the whole area.” The conspiracies Shorosky speaks of are to do with Nevada’s Area 51, which he describes as “probably one of the biggest American conspiracy theories... it’s basically a military base, and since probably the 70s people have thought that that’s where they do alien testing”. This phenomenon attracts tourists to Nevada, and explains the shot of a store dedicated to selling every kind of alien memorabilia imaginable, as well as that of a UFO-cum-tourist attraction that’s used as a highway marker in the town of Rachel.

Shorosky details how he came to name the project Nevada Mirage with a perfectly succinct explanation. “A mirage is almost the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the desert. It’s this thing that you can see but you can’t really get a hold of; it’s never tangible. For me, that’s like a lot of my experience with Nevada itself. It’s the idea that there is always a strangeness to it that you can’t quite pinpoint.” It’s the inherent otherness of these images which commands their viewers’ attention, inspiring curiosity and a desire to see more of Nevada – a desire that Shorosky shares, since he plans to return to the state to finish Nevada Mirage, this time aiming for more portraits and a focus on the Native American history that Nevada is rooted in. “It’s almost like this infatuation,” he concludes. “The project is like a strange love letter to Nevada.”