Between Here and There

by Mark Hahn


I’ve been drawn to this little dried up oasis for more than twenty years. The first time I stopped, I snapped some grainy b&w Tri-X photos with a little Olympus ECR rangefinder camera. Sometimes, you can’t help remembering that you’ve been in the same spot over and over again – all you know for certain is that the earth has spun round beneath you too many times to count. There really is no escaping yourself.

The Interstate-8 is the only direct freeway to San Diego from Tucson. There is little in between the two cities (unless you count Yuma, which is kind of one of those sweaty armpit stops along the way to anywhere that you might be going). The frontage road that takes you to this deserted gas station and restaurant is partially blocked by a barrier with spray painted letters proclaiming that the road is closed, but you can drive right around it. When we stopped this time, I noted that the little trailer that I had once dreamed of living in had been hauled away, but the road was still the same. Some strips of pavement feel timeless, as if they force you to re-evaluate where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Stepping into the ruined buildings, it was clear that the property had been re-appropriated recently and someone had tried to make a new go of it – trying to resurrect an old dream of independence and defiance. I don’t know how I missed this. I would have stopped and given them some business – supported these rugged people, whoever they were, trying to wring a dream from the parched earth.

I don’t know where my old prints or negatives are from this shoot are, but I found this set of low resolution scanned images. They’re from a long time ago and were sized for a VGA monitor – boy have times changed! What’s interesting is how similar my Olympus Pen E-P1 digital feels compared to the old Olympus ECR that I shot these with. Photography is photography and art is art – some dreams never die.

Added: After giving these photos some further thought, I remembered that when taking the black and whites that I had my camera in one hand and my then 2 year old daughter in my other. We were on our way to Sea World and the beach. I carried her through the wreckage, worried she’d fall on the broken glass that was everywhere. It was kind of like seeing things new for both of us. Before she was born, I hadn’t picked up a camera creatively for almost 20 years. Even though I started at the Art Institute of Chicago as a photo major, I redirected my creative efforts into painting and sculpture after getting there. For me, it’s interesting comparing the black and white photos which were essentially travel “snap shots” at the time and my newer color photos which I consider a little more developed and practiced. Looking back can be a good thing. Being happy where you’re at is better!

Note on gear: When I first started getting back into photography, I bought a boxed up old used darkroom which included a sweet Omega B-22 enlarger. Unfortunately, the lame-ass no-name lens that came with it was kind of trashed. These prints were made before I upgraded to the biting sharp el-Nikkor 50mm. The Olympus ECR was a very respectable camera for its time and is still really nice if you’re shooting film!