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Life on the Westside

A new photography exhibit at the Historic Westside School showcases the UNLV University Libraries Special Collections’ Clinton Wright Photograph Collection.
Arts & Culture  |  Feb 15, 2017  |  By Sean Kennedy
Media Contact: Sean Kennedy (702) 895-2235
Doolittle Soapbox Race from August 1970

Doolittle Soapbox Race from August 1970. (Clinton Wright Photography Collection, UNLV University Libraries Special Collections)

As a photographer living on Las Vegas’ predominately African American Westside during the 1960s and 1970s, Clinton Wright focused his camera on his community as a way to make a living. Wright photographed everything from weddings and church events to news stories and business profiles. Year after year, frame after frame, Wright captured life on the Westside.

Wright’s images are being brought to life again in a UNLV University Libraries Special Collection exhibit opening Feb. 16 at the newly renovated Historic Westside School.

Wright will be the special guest at an open house event from 3-5 p.m. on Feb. 16 to kick off the exhibit at the school, located at 330 W. Washington Ave. The event, hosted by UNLV University Libraries, the City of Las Vegas, and Vegas PBS, will also feature remarks from Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn C. Goodman and a full screening of the upcoming Vegas PBS documentary, "African Americans: The Las Vegas Experience," which draws heavily from Wright’s collection. The gallery showing is the first to be held in the school since its renovation.

“Wright’s work gives us an unprecedented look into life in the predominately African American enclave known as the Westside,” said Aaron Mayes, UNLV Special Collections curator for visual materials. “These images, which Mr. Wright donated to UNLV, capture the spirit of this community in a time of great change.”

Now residing in Texas, Wright graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, before arriving in Las Vegas in 1959 during a time of deep segregation within the city. While living on the Westside, Wright worked as a portrait and wedding photographer, and later began shooting for the Las Vegas Voice newspaper. His photographs, which run through the ‘60s and ‘70s, evoke images of elegance, family, and community.

“Without Mr. Wright's talent and incredible generosity, Las Vegas would have very little visual evidence of this vibrant, underrepresented community,” Mayes said. “His images are special in many ways, but none more important than their ability to show the community in good times, something often lost in media coverage of the day.”

The Clinton Wright Photograph Collection is archived in UNLV University Libraries Special Collections as part of the “Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas” project.