by Mark Hahn


When I first bought my new car – the only new car I’ve ever owned – they gave me a year of free oil changes at the dealership down on 22nd Street. This is the south side of Tucson. When I took it in, I’d have time to kill while waiting for it to be serviced. I’d usually go exploring the open drainage ditch across the street. It’s flanked by modest homes and auto body shops.

Now my car is old and falling apart with 200,000 miles on it. I finally got around to taking it back to the dealer for safety recall work. This put me back in the same area where I had been many times seven years ago. The landscape hadn’t changed much, but the photos I saw had. None of the little details that drew me here seven years ago were to be found. No broken glass with numbers scrawled across it, no small booze bottles lying in the mud. Maybe I was just looking for different things today. Seven years is a long time. Things change.

Seven years ago, I was still shooting b&w film in classic mechanical cameras. Many of the photos I took on errands like this ended up in my book, Beautiful Pointless Universe. Today I shoot color exclusively. This has brought on a monumental shift in my way of seeing and shooting. Massive changes occur. Both for good and bad.

My worn out car is perhaps a symbol of where I’ve been and where the car had taken me. Vehicles are useful for getting you from one place to somewhere else. Sometimes it’s time to get out and move on. Leave the damned thing at the side of the road and just keep going.

When things are bad, part of me has always wanted to drop everything and leave everything behind. Never look back. I’ve done this countless times while a reckless struggling youth. It never got me anywhere. Today it’s just a fleeting fantasy.

Even if you don’t look back, the past is always behind you. The wreckage of life and the emotions that you can’t shake off pave the way into the future. We make our own roads in life. The highway to hell and back takes us past things we wish we’d never seen as well as things we’re thankful we didn’t miss. Some things are so beautiful it makes the pain of living completely worth it.

When the road opens up in front of you and you enter something so unexpected and beautiful, sometimes you can’t help but stop and think about how happy you are that you didn’t throw it all away. Life is a mash-up of suffering and joy. While we can’t control the outcome, we do steer the car and choose whether or not we keep going. The things we see best are the things we look at most closely.

Sometimes, we look for dead ends though. We look for a road that takes us nowhere. There are different motivations for everything. A drunk might hide at the end of an alley and drink himself into oblivion just to get away. A couple might drive to the end of the road to watch a sunset together. Feel love and hold onto each other. The expansive night skies in Arizona are often the most beautiful you see anywhere, even if the landscape is rugged and hostile.