On the road between Las Vegas and Los Angeles lies Palmdale.
Whilst I was drawn to it for the golden light that hits this flat valley situated 3000ft above sea level, Palmdale is better known for being both the meth and porn capital of America.
I didn't come across any of its meth labs nor gangs, instead what I found was blocks of strip malls and a community college full of a warm, welcoming and optimistic students with big hearts and even larger dreams.
Looking to street cast young guys to wear Levi's Vintage for a fashion story for Jocks & Nerds magazine, Marcus Love, the stylist, and I were coming up pretty dry on the empty streets until we were pointed to Antelope Community College.
We were greeted with enthusiasm and curiosity by staff that thought we must be insane, partly due to our accents, but mainly because of our odd request to take their students out to where the city meets the desert and to photograph them for a British fashion magazine.
After explaining to a receptionist, student services, the dean, and the president what we were hoping to achieve, we handed over our ID's, copies of the magazine and an assurance that we weren't porn kings trying to lure their students into compromising poses.
We were then let loose on the campus. One conveniently timed fire alarm later, and all the classrooms were evacuated and we got to mingle with the entire student body, inviting a cross section of the population to have their picture taken.
Over the next couple of days, during that golden hour just before dusk, we squeezed in shoots with six students who entrusted us with their image and their personal stories – stories that inspired both sadness and joy.
This random selection of young adults that we chose seemed to represent a side of America that few foreigners are privy to. An America in decline after a decade of home foreclosures, overcrowded prisons, evangelical extremism, gang violence and families broken by a distant war. This was the generation that this turmoil had bred.
Most of these kids lived with their mom, a grandmother, an aunt, or in a foster home: a distinct lack of male role models. Those fathers and brothers that were known, were only known for their absence, army career or destruction at the mercy of addiction.
But each of these young men were full of hope and had grand plans for their futures. Undeterred by the failures of the generation before them, they spoke boldly about the fresh year of college and the opportunities it would afford them.
I left Palmdale moved by their courageous stories and unfaltering optimism, my faith restored in the future of this next generation.
Here are some of the portraits I shot for Issue 10 of Jocks & Nerds.
Photography - Cameron McNee
Styling - Marcus Love
Models - Austin Wilder-Tramell, Edin Martinez, Brandt Robin
Timothy Grahek, Ronnie Meza & Martin Evans