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
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
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