If his photography left any clues that he was considering suicide, they were so subtle that no one picked up on them.
Left of Center Gallery, 2207 W. Gowan Road in North Las Vegas, is showing “road to zzyzx ,” an exhibit of the photography of the late Warren Wesley Bates. Bates was an assistant city editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, sister paper to View. Bates died on April 23 , 2010. He was 49.
The free exhibit runs through June 4 and includes letters written by his family and co-workers, who were left to wonder at the struggles that led him to take his own life. “I would have been your touchstone … you could have leaned on me,” one reads.
Gallery director Marylou Evans plans to give a gallery talk at noon Saturday focusing on the exhibit. The event is free and open to the public.
“As a body of work, it’s very lonely,” Evans said of the exhibit. “You see time-lapse images, a sign with a blurred train, like life is passing by … Obviously, he was a deep thinker.”
Bates shared a love of photography with his younger sister, Susana Bates, who lives in San Francisco. She is a professional photographer and chose the photos for the exhibit.
While the nine-year age gap kept her from connecting with him when she was younger, being miles apart as adults didn’t stop them from cultivating a bond later in life. Even so, she said she did not see hints of looming suicide in his work.
“I see loneliness in the photographs, not just stark loneliness, though he had that side to him,” Susana Bates said. “He was not a loner per se, but he was not afraid to be alone.”
Warren Bates was born in San Jose, Calif. , in 1961. In 1985 he moved to Las Vegas, where he was hired by the Review-Journal as a general assignment reporter.
Lindsey Losnedahl worked with Bates for 14 years. She described him as reserved but approachable and someone with a great sense of humor. His photography, she said, showed his respect of the desert and forgotten things and abandoned places, but she never thought his works spoke to his state of mind.
“In light of his actions … you can’t help but wonder if there are parallels,” she said.
Ralph Fountain, a Review-Journal photojournalist, recalled a happier time — being sent on assignment with Bates out to the desert. They took Bates’ truck, which was never parked near other vehicles for fear of door dings. They got stuck in soft sand, and nothing they tried — branches for traction, gently working the truck backward and forward — worked. Nearly half an hour later, they were out of options.
“He was babying the truck, so I said, ‘Let me try,’ ” Fountain said. “I revved it up real good, popped the clutch, and we fishtailed out of there. I kept it floored until we were out of the sand patch. Poor Warren, he was wincing, but he didn’t say anything.”
Another photographer expressed admiration for Bates’ patience for the right shot. The Ansel Adams -type of photos Bates captured required setting up with a tripod, using a flash to capture a moving object, such as a train, and then a “bulb” setting, where the aperture is open for as long as the photographer wants.
Bates used exposures as long as 25 minutes for the shots in the exhibit. The open aperture results in streaks of car lights and star trails. Setting up a shot and waiting for the right lighting conditions could take hours. The nearly two dozen photos on display use the vast sky, the barren desert and the ruins of places now inhabited by only tumbleweeds and ghosts.
“It’s powerful,” said Vicki Richardson, the gallery’s executive director. “The letters really show how something like this (suicide) a ffects the people you left behind. There are so many unanswered questions.”
Susana Bates said her hope is “road to zzyzx” brings awareness to suicide prevention. From her conversations with her brother before he took his life, she said she knew he was struggling, but he assured her he was seeking help.
“I didn’t know how bad it was,” she said. “This will be with me the rest of my life … that I didn’t see it.”
The gallery is open noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 647-7378 or visit warrenbatesphoto.com.
Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-2949.