Casinos are a combination of colours, bright lights, a variety of characters, and the entire range of human emotions, among other things. Therefore, it’s only natural that several photographers have found them to be fascinating places for capturing special shots well before colour photography was ever invented. Let us quickly go through some of the most famous casino shots to have ever been captured in days gone by.
The LIFE Magazine Shot (December, 1942) by Peter Stackpole
Peter Stackpole was a photographer of significant reputation for a long time. His work outside the LIFE Magazine publication had inspired several generations between the mid-1930s, and up until the late 1960s. Stackpole’s work for the magazine had him working in close proximity with Hollywood stars such as Alfred Hitchcock, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Gary Cooper and Greer Garson. His most famous work won him the George Polk Award, which was a shot taken from 100-feet underwater. However, it is his 1940s casino shot that has made him more popular than anything else.
There are so many remarkable and nostalgic details in this shot by Peter Stackpole that it has become iconic in its representation of a 1940s high stakes casino scene. From round sunglasses, luxury watches, and pinstriped suits of power, to the classic roulette table with neatly placed bets; the shot by Stackpole still acts as a window through time for us today to take a peek at how the rich and famous lived back then. This picture was first seen on the cover of LIFE Magazine’s December 21st, 1942 edition. Since then, it has been reused (not always legally) and manipulated digitally to produce several similar copies, as this shot essentially serves as a template for media production in the set theme.
The One-Armed Bandit by Yale Joel
An internationally acclaimed artist, Yale Joel was famous in the 1950s and the 60s as the “photographer of the impossible.” He did not just capture incredible shots, but often used what was considered cutting edge photography tech at that time to bring his images closer to his imagination. This often attributed an obscure nature to his most famous shots. In his shot of the One-Armed Bandit, we see a classic slot machine, more commonly known as the Liberty Bell earlier, and the Fruit Machine later on. Gambling laws went through a lot of changes during those early days of the slot machine, often making it difficult to determine when and where slot machines were made legal or illegal. The One-Armed Bandit is a masterful representation of the entire theme.
Aside from details of the nostalgic slot machine, we can also see why Joel called it the One-Armed Bandit. The solitary placement of the slot machine outside of any casino background makes it almost look like a bandit from the Old Western days. With enough imagination, you can almost see the slot’s single handle as the lone, remaining arm of a hardened outlaw, well set in his ways. If looking at the shot makes you want to have a go yourself, you are not alone. Even today, some of the best online slots still feature the classic retro theme we see here in Yale Joel’s shot.
The Bingo Cage by Yale Joel
By now, you should be able to see a pattern here that is common in both of Yale Joel’s shots mentioned on this list. They are both objects we are used to seeing in a casino, but placed in a background which lets us see the subject in its entirety, separated from the glamour, people and bright lights. They are similar in that respect, but the two photographs are nothing like each other in their style or theme.
We see something unique in this shot of the bingo cage where Joel uses his mastery of light and shadow to almost make the portrait look like a sketch, complete with several layers of intricate, mysterious shadows. The more introspective speculations about Joel’s Bingo Cage should be left to the observer, but hints about what it represents are easy to guess. Whatever the observer’s interpretations might be, Yale Joel’s Bingo Cage is, without a shadow of doubt, the best photo ever taken of a bingo cage!
You might be surprised to know that there are more masterful paintings of casinos and gambling than there are artistic photographs related to the concept. Of course, several vintage and contemporary shots in the theme exist, but most of them are more commercial than artistic. On the other hand, quirky paintings such as Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker continue to garner attention even today. However, nothing comes even close to the surrealistic beauty seen in Caravaggio’s theatrical portrayal of The Cardsharps (1594).