Marc McAndrews: Nevada Rose

Photographs by Marc McAndrews and Essay by Patty Kelly

Published by  Umbrage

Reviewed by Laura De Marco

Having in your hands a book that since its title declares to have the intention of dealing with a delicate and rarely investigated theme, builds in you, as the reader, a certain sense of expectation and curiosity and at the same time it makes you wonder about the possibilities of success of such a task. This was the first thought I had when the book Nevada Rose. Inside the American brothel, a recent publication of Umbrage Editions by photographer Marc McAndrews, first arrived in my hands. I was skeptical. But by the time I reached the end of the book I realized that the author made the impossible possible. This project is a delicate, intimate and deep inside view into the hidden world of what has been always considered the oldest job of the world and when you reach the last page and see the last picture, you just want to go through all of it again, to enjoy all the little details the photographer inserted here and there or to stop in front of a portrait and analyze it deeply in order to get a better understanding of this unseen world.

McAndrews’s project about legal brothels last five years, a pretty good amount of time that allowed him to dig himself in the everyday life of 29 so called “ranches” around towns and deserts in the state of Nevada, the country’s only legal brothels system of the United States, and to produce a rich and dense 160 pages book. Page after page, desolated landscapes alternate with photographs of interiors, with posed portraits and with closed shots of details: the book is indeed an in depth journey into the everyday life of the brothels the author visited. Bars, saloons, bedrooms and, above all, different kinds of objects left around in the rooms are the recurring subjects of this essay: a pair of high heels shoes left on a stair, a mattress with a blanket folded on it, a bedside table with a vase of roses on it, a big saloon with a white piano, again with flowers standing over it. The photographer’s eyes go over a delicate and rich of life world and leave the observer to be absorbed by it. Nothing is left behind and we are able to locate these places thanks to several interesting pictures of the external facades of the houses, again showing interesting details such as the signs on the streets, as the one indicating the location of ”The love ranch”. The photographs include a diverse variety of portraits of the women who work in the houses: some of them are more intimate while others are more acted like the one of Priscilla, a worker at the Wild West Saloon in the town of Winnemucca. But in both cases it is possible to feel the ability of the photographer to catch the peculiar character of the person portrayed: some of them being more proud, ironic and playful other being more hesitant, shy or even with a sense of solitude in their eyes. All the portraits are posed and at first sight this decision seems to give the author a detached point of view, far from the intent of a real understanding of the phenomenon analyzed. But eventually we understand that it is through this apparent indifference that McAndrews is able to leave to his subjects a certain degree of freedom in deciding how to pose, assuring them their dignity and giving the viewer the possibility to have a direct contact with them. The author also bring the viewer behind the curtains of the brothels’ life, a world rarely seen and imagined. We are able to visit the kitchens, the laundry rooms, the bedrooms of the workers, the people who run the houses such as the managers and owners and all the inside details – as the signs declaring the rules of the houses or the pets – that let us enter a world that now is felt real and warm, almost familiar and close to our everyday life.

McAndrews is a very careful photographer and the book, his first monograph, is a true research of a good amount of refined details, a sort of in depth survey of the subject. Nevertheless, the richness of details never lead to an aseptic or scientific view, since the author is able to keep a certain degree of intimacy with his subjects, even through and objective and direct eye. The project over all is very complete and honest, the author never being too much present but more often allowing his subjects – being them the women or the houses or the landscapes – to speak by themselves. The are no statements but only a presentation of what this world is about, and this is one of the greatest accomplishments of this book: to present something that has never been presented so clearly and deeply. We are allowed to enter in the real everyday life of a phenomenon that has always been hidden or only imagined and we are able to realize that it is just a part of the life of many people, a microcosmos like others made of rituals, relationships, compromises, contradictions, beauty and ugliness all together.


LAURA DE MARCO is a photographer, photography curator and teacher as well as founder of Spazio Labo’|Center of Photography, in Bologna, Italy.

Born in the Sicilian town of Messina, at the age of seven she moves to Bologna with the family. Since very young she writes, plays violin and other instruments and approaches the art world from different point of views. Starting from 2005 she works constantly with the photographic medium, using it as her main tool of expression. After graduating in Communication Science at the University of Bologna, she starts studying photography and arrives at the International Center of Photography in New York where she attends a class for some months. Here she starts her first personal project and begins her relationship with the city of New York and its photography community. Back in Italy, in 2009 she starts teaching photography and organizing photography classes. In 2010 she founds, with another Italian photographer, Spazio Labo’ | Center of Photography, a space dedicated to photography in the center of Bologna which consists in a gallery, a school, a library and a place for events such as book presentations, talks, portfolio reviews. Nowadays she teaches in the one year program of the school and curates the gallery, which hosts shows by both emerging and established national and international photographers. In July 2011 she starts the independent editorial project called Edizioni Labo’, self publishing books and catalogs for Spazio Labo’. Since 2010 she also curates the project “Photography Workshop in New York”. She frequently collaborates, doing portfolio reviews and talks, with international festivals such as Savignano Immagini and Foiano Fotografia.

She showed work in some group shows (May 2008, Biblioteca “J. L. Borges”, Bologna; June 2008, “Museo dei Misteri”, Campobasso; May 2009, “ArtePhoto”, photography biennale of Cento, Bologna; July 2011 “Fotografia di ricerca e rappresentazione del territorio”, Spazio Labo’, Bologna) and had one personal exhibition in Bologna in December 2009; in July 2010 she has been invited to join the artist residency Roccagloriosa (Salerno) for which she realized the project “Echoes”; in April 2011 she has realized a project for the artist residency “Nosadella 2” in Bologna called “Room with a view”; in October 2011 she has been part of a project exhibited inside the “Archivio Aperto” festival (Bologna) along with photographers Giuseppe De Mattia and Roberto Alfano.

Laura lives in Bologna, Italy, frequently working in the city of New York.