Mark Hahn Photography

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Category: Airport

Art and Aloneness

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I was corresponding with an old friend via text while traveling on business. I made the comment that I hated business travel. My friend asked me why.

Feeling somewhat introspective, I answered, “I hate being alone.”

Since the two of us often correspond about art, love, sex and life, he gave the comment a bit of thought before saying, ” Wait, to do art is to be alone!”

I shot back, “Art is what I do to get through being alone!”

Our correspondence moved on to other things, but while flying cross country, the topic kept coming up in my mind — being alone, why I do art and the connections.

When I’m feeling particularly down on the world, I’ll often joke, “The only thing I hate more than people is being alone.”

It’s one of those jokes that is too painful to be funny. Of course, most the time we spend in the company of other people is still just time spent alone. Superficial interactions, while better than nothing, still leaves you you nowhere.

With these thoughts I let myself doze off on the aircraft. I had nothing but existential dreams, trying to make contact with one person after another — none of whom could understand a thing I was trying to say. There was no contact. We were just individual people occupying space near one another.

I was woken up by violent turbulence and the plane being thrown around in the air. The young girl sitting next to me was terrified by me. I am a reasonably muscular man with a brush cut after all and I have a certain presence I suppose. It is pretty rare for anyone to be so put off by me though.

After becoming aware of the intense pain I was inflicting on her just for being there and trying to look out the window to see the clouds outside, I resigned myself to reclining in my my seat and looking up at the ceiling. Then I closed my eyes and thought about how much I missed my girlfriend. It was a long flight.

With my eyes closed, I also further pondered my motivation to create art –everyone has their own history. When we shut off and fall inside ourselves we cannot see anything outside ourselves. Art is both a way to explore who we are when we’re alone and a means for making contact with others. When art captures some facet of the essence of being human, it will resonate with people we share it with. We can reflect on being human as a shared experience — a way of feeling not alone.

Sometimes our art is a silent scream. We are screaming out that we want to make contact. Scream out that we exist. In a way, I was screaming something out loud as I sat and wrote this on the filled to capacity aircraft — fighting my overwhelming claustrophobic feelings of needing a way out and not even be able to let myself look outside the window!

Aloneness comes not just when we close off the world and sit behind a locked door, but when we let the world spin by and allow and are locked inside ourselves. So self absorbed that the world outside is not even a distraction. We can be sitting in the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting for our number to be called and be struck by a random emotional trigger that we associate with something around us. This can be made into art –the abstract association of a feeling with something seemingly unconnected to who we are.

Somehow I always feel that I find myself somewhere between my body, the emotions I feel and the things that I see and how I see them. I am both the observer and the photographer, but as in physics, you can never know both the true position and velocity of anything. One or the other. We can never know who we are as ourselves while in motion, in life or living. When we are engaged we are one thing and when alone another. We have to let go to live and disengage to experience ourselves as we are. Art and writing can preserve glimpses we have of ourselves when we are alone. Somehow we are really everything all together, but we cannot be aware of it all at one time.

If life could be your art, there would be no reason for producing art. If pure experience was art we would not need to create objects. Art becomes possessions that weigh us down — adding to the clutter of life.

Art can also be a beautiful escape. Something to think about when we are disengaged from the world. Passengers of life looking out the window as places meaningful to others pass by and we have nothing but imagination to place ourselves within these spaces.

We see an empty chair and imagine what it would feel like if we were sitting there. What an alternate life that centers around that chair and that space might be like. We can also imagine ourselves meeting someone who may walk into this dream space. In the end we want to be connected and not a loner producing objects with implied importance.

My plane finally landed. Most the passengers who could, were already standing. The young woman and I accidentally found ourselves face to face while gathering up our stuff in preparation to deplane. We didn’t smile or acknowledge each other in any way other than not looking away. Since the flight was over, the girl’s perceived threat from me had passed. Before getting up, I had to unplug my phone charger from under the seat.

I held it up and smiled, saying, “It’s great that they have plugs for charging devices on these planes now. I do everything on my phone and it won’t hold enough charge to get me through such a long flight.”

She smiled and said, “I know, isn’t it?”

I got up, turned my back and walked away. We had both spent the entire flight doing stuff on our electronic devices. Whew!

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There Must Be Some Kind of Way Out of Here – Gila, NM

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Booze, cigarettes and angels — what we cling to in this world to give us hope and help us know that we are alive. We put these things on our children and then on our dead while attempting to ignore our own mortality. We try bridging our memories with reality by using token objects of existence that we can touch and feel.

This cemetery near Gila New Mexico is as alive with love, remembrance and sorrow as the surrounding landscape is bleak and barren. Across the road is an uncontrolled landing strip for small planes. You can take off and fly away over the grave stones. You can fly to wherever you want. You can fly away from your own death and leave your dead memories behind — in a dream.

When I visit my dad’s grave next week, I don’t intend to bring anything with me. I’ll probably put my hand on his headstone and remember. The only thing I’ll be leaving are the tears that fall from my eyes onto the soil above his bones.

He’s buried in cemetery somewhere in Detroit in the middle of a neighborhood that is now almost completely abandoned. The houses around the cemetery are either empty, burned or have been bulldozed off the face of the earth. It is perhaps the perfect landscape to remember how alone I felt when he died. Really, I was just a kid.

My relatives flew into town and buried him here. Then they flew away. His cemetery is one of loneliest places on earth. I don’t make it a habit of visiting and I’ve never brought flowers. Germans don’t leave booze. I guess we’re expected to hold in our sadness until it rips us apart.

I wish I had a single prop two-seater aircraft to climb into and fly away in, but I don’t. I’m stuck here on the ground. Some things will always hurt.

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Engines of Flight

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I took my 11 year old son to the Pima Air and Space Museum yesterday. He dreams of being a pilot. I didn’t feel the need to take photos of any of the aircraft. Instead I took these detailed shots of some of the legendary aircraft engines they had on display.

Fight or Flight

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Completely exposed and walking through the bleak Arizona desert, you look up and try to put your heart into every big jet taking off from Tucson International Airport. Sometimes your heart just needs to get the fuck away from all the weight of your pain that is pulling it down. The planes fly off into what seems a slow motion heaven and you can feel your heart almost making it on board. Then the giant clear blue sky crashes down around you and you are left standing alone in the desert. F-16 fighters circle in training formation — flying out of nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It’s as if to let you know that they are ready to shoot down any dream trying to escape.

* * *

Last night I took my eleven year old boy to see Flight, where Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a cocky airline pilot who is addicted to multiple substances and flies under the influence all the time — this is his life.  My son dreams of being a pilot so I knew he would like the crash drama, and regarding the sex and drug abuse — as far as I’m concerned — it’s never too young to start talking to your kids about that.

Denzel Washington brings the complex and nuanced reality of an addict brilliantly to the screen — I can’t remember anyone doing it better. When Whip gets the combination of drugs and alcohol just right, you can almost feel that magic moment that every addict lives for. You can see it in Washington — when Whip is feeling ten feet tall — how happy, confident and alive he is. The world feels right. Though, before long, you can’t avoid also feeling the profound loneliness and pain that his addictions have brought to his life. This movie does not glamorize substance abuse nor does it demonize it.

What’s interesting about the (mild) sex scenes is how carefully they’re shot to show how a physical tenderness can be shared between troubled people. This is much harder to pull off successfully in a movie than gratuitous sex, and in Flight, it is done with sincerity. Even with Whip’s too young  stewardess girlfriend (played by the very sexy Nadine Velazquez — who my boy absolutely loved seeing naked), there is a level of closeness between the two that feels genuine — two fucked up people spending time together so they don’t have to be alone with their addiction and struggles.

The first time I watched the movie, the moralizing Hollywoodization of this addiction narrative was annoying to me, but the second time seeing it, I saw it through the eyes of my eleven year old.  I decided that I liked it — for him. Realities are personal and not universal, but how can you convey that to a kid? Washington does a fantastic job of showing the complexity of addiction — the immediacy of feeling great when the drugs kick in and the corresponding larger picture of loneliness and despair. For this, I forgive the ending. It is a Hollywood movie after all, and people want a happy ending. Good guys always win and underneath it all, Whip is a good guy. He saved a hundred lives through his sheer genius and piloting skill,  and in the end he does the right thing and comes clean and proves his devotion to his dead girlfriend.

* * *

After the crash, Whip meets Nicole (played by Kelly Reilly) in the hospital. She had a slip up and is recovering from a heroin overdose. She’s the hard luck girl with the difficult past who is struggling to get sober and stay sober. She has a sponsor, goes to AA and tries to get Whip to go with her.  It’s hard not to fall for Nicole, and in fact, during the movie, my son leaned over to me and whispered, “You could probably fall in love with her, couldn’t you daddy?”

I was floored. I asked him why. He said it was because she was a photographer, but I could see in his eyes that there was something more. He likes messing with me. I just smiled at him. I could relate to Nicole as my friend — and who knows — putting some fictional self in some celluloid parallel universe, maybe I could fall in love with her.

In real life, I found the love of my life two years ago. We both shoot photos together and we’re both sober.

* * *

When the movie was over, my son told me, “Don’t worry daddy, when I’m a pilot, I’m not going to do the drugs or drinking.”

“That’s good.”

That’s what I wanted to hear.

Then, with a shy grin, he said, “I’m just going to do the women!”

I laughed, “Find someone that you really like and who really likes you back — there’s nothing better.”

* * *

It’s hard for me to talk with my kids about sobriety. They have never seen me take a drink and only know about some of the wild stories from my youth. I can’t explain to them how my life was essentially on hold while I was out drinking. They don’t know what it was like for me trying to block out the unresolved emotions that were left in me when my dad died. Somethings you can only share with someone who already knows.

No one told me to stop drinking. I decided to do it on my own. I tell my kids that my choice to be sober should tell them more than anything I can say. I don’t know what they really think.

When Whip defiantly boasted to Nicole, “I choose to drink,” I could hear myself saying the same thing years ago. Today I choose to be sober and I embrace life and my emotions on their own terms — good or bad. There is nothing physically stopping me from going out and getting drunk any night of the week, but I choose not to. It’s a good choice. I’ve been sober for more than twenty five years.

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