February 10, 2015 7:30 AM EST

“The scary part was to open the door and slide out of the helicopter at 9,000 ft.,” says Vincent Laforet, the photographer and filmmaker behind a series of new dizzying and surreal images of Las Vegas shot at night.

Laforet, an award-winning photographer who turned filmmaker when camera makers such as Canon introduced HD video into their digital SLRs, is accustomed with flying. “I’ve been doing it for over nine years, but the difference in this case is the altitude,” he tells TIME. “This is the first time that I’ve experienced hypoxia, because of a lack of oxygen.”

To shoot this series of never-before-seen images, Laforet had to get as far away and as high as possible – while taking into account that Las Vegas is already 2,000 ft. above sea level. “It was a pretty surreal flight because, when you leave Las Vegas, there’s no light,” he says. “It’s just a desert. You are literally seeing nothing but complete blackness, and it’s probably the closest thing to the moon that I’ll ever see.”

But, the resulting images make the whole ordeal of shooting at such an altitude worth it. “It felt pretty magical because you’re really aware of Las Vegas’ place,” says Laforet. “It’s this complete spot of energy that is so artificial looking and so artificial in reality, with nothing surrounding it for dozen of miles.”

“It’s just so Vegas,” he says. “It’s everything I hate about the world in one place, but it’s pretty darn beautiful.”

Laforet’s complete set of images shot above Las Vegas were published today on Storehouse, a visual storytelling application for iPhone and iPad that enables users to combine photographs with videos and text to create visual narratives.

Laforet’s collaboration with Storehouse originated when the photographer used the app to publish similar images of New York City. “I had shot these images for Men’s Health magazine, and nothing happened when they were published,” he says. “I received no phone calls or interview requests. No one noticed anything.”

So, when he was on holiday with friends, Laforet made a selection of 40 of the images he had shot above New York, and published them on Storehouse. “The next thing you know, it’s one of the single, most viral, energetic, crazy thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “I’ve been part of very interesting stories when I was a journalist, I’ve been part of very viral things as a filmmaker, but nothing like this. It’s extraordinaire,” says the French photographer. “And it keeps on going and has spread outside of the video and photography world.”

Storehouse will continue to host Laforet’s multi-city project, dubbed Air, which will also see the photographer encourage the app’s users to participate by submitting their own stories every time he visits a new city.

For Laforet, the success of Air is indicative of changing editorial market. “The reality is that [magazines] don’t have the money to fly a helicopter the way they used to do,” he says. “Things have shifted, and commercial clients have come up. Storytelling never dies; it just evolves.”

Vincent Laforet is a photographer and filmmaker. See more of his work on his website.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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