Mark Hahn Photography

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Black Cat Crossed My Path

I’ve been down this alley in Miami, AZ many times before. There’s something about the vitality of the structures here that are simultaneously at the edge of collapse while being completely beautiful and full of life that I find comforting. It is the kind of place where I can imagine finding some alternative dream life in and where I might make one of these buildings into my home?

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Then a feral black cat crossed my path. I am superstitious about nearly all random occurrences, but I’ve never thought of black cats as bringing bad luck. More than anything, I somehow always relate to them, thinking that if I had the opportunity to return in a different form, that my choice would be to come back as a cat. The black cat I saw, was a little female and very timid. She looked at me before scurrying off between some metal garbage cans and a brick building.

I thought that if I lived on this alley, that I’d feed this little cat. Maybe she’d get tame enough to let me pet her before she’d dash away into the night. Just a pleasant chance meeting. It’s funny how sometimes it’s just the smallest fleeting moments that make you smile and happy.

While the pressures and responsibilities of my real life weigh on me daily – parenting my three children and shouldering the financial responsibilities that goes with that – sometimes it’s just my ability of imagining some carefree alternative life that gets me through the week. Maybe, if I was just an odd-ball artist living in one of these old buildings, I would find peace. I was never cut out for the pressures and responsibilities I have taken on, but all I can do is the best I can while I keep moving forward.

At this point, I also wonder how I’d manage if the pressure were suddenly removed. Would it feel like freedom or would it leave me lost? You get so used to a constant load that you can’t imagine it being taken off you. Maybe it doesn’t matter. We all put ourselves where we’re at by our actions, either consciously or unconsciously.

I have a lot of friends talking about early-retirement, what they plan to do when they are free from their jobs and how they feel like they’ve already worked too much and need to quit it all. When they ask me what I’m planning, I have to just honestly say I have no idea what I’m going to do or when. I’m just getting by week by week. The only reason I had to get my “day-job” was because I had kids and afterwards, things went pretty wrong in my life — not that I’m complaining, but they did. My kids are everything to me and when I finally depart from this life, I want them remembering that I was always there for them, emotionally and financially. That’s what keeps me working.

Maybe that’s why it’s so important to let myself dream of alternatives. Give myself small mental holidays from the stress and pressure. Dream about living on the edge of society, in a dirty industrial brick space with a steal door on an alley like this one in Miami, AZ. Dream about being the weird/friendly artist/musician crazy-cat-man.

But maybe it’s not the actual escape that’s important, but the mental one. The times to live a daydream. Think about the unreality of some alternative life. Maybe that’s ultimately where art, music and writing comes in. It provides the structure for emotional and mental escape from the day to day. Maybe it’s the spirit’s way to create balance in ourselves. No matter what, I find ways to create. I’ve just sent out the final draft of my third photo/essay book, From the Inside – The Forest Haven Asylum, which should be released shortly. I’m also working on the final production of my sixth full length music CD, Drive All Night, and I have numerous other creative projects in the works. Maybe it’s not about how good your life is, but how good the escape is. Maybe art is better when it’s the escape and not your life. I really don’t know any of this…

But as I watched this little black feral cat disappear between the trash cans, part of my inner spirit went with her. Part of me dreamed of being that little cat. Experiencing that total freedom. Another part of me appreciated that I could just experience seeing her and think about how it would be to be free.

And just because everything always connects… here’s a recent song I recorded about a lost cat:

Forest Haven Asylum – Solar Culture Gallery

forest_haven_small-3Opening Saturday 10 June 2017

6-9 PM

I think I needed some time before I could go back and do something with my photos from the Forest Haven Asylum. We spent three solid and intense days in the abandoned asylum and I took over a thousand photos. My goal was never to create a body of work that would shock or horrify the viewer, even though the facility had a brutal history and aspects of it are and were horrifying, but for me as an artist, I used the experience as a way to explore my own emotions though photography in a place where the archaeology could be used to transcend its past as well as my own past.

I have been immersing myself in this set of photos because I am very near to completely my photo/essay book project. While I’ll announce when the book is published here, I will say that I am happy with the final 120 photos that will be included and with my introductory essay. The experience of being here is one of those that I will never forget for many reasons.

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery:

Come see the show if you are in town!

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

All images and content copyrighted 2017 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

The Possibilities are Endless – Benson, AZ

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The sun was going down on Benson when we stumbled on this little row of very old houses just beyond the railroad tracks that cut through town. It was impossible to tell if they were being torn down or being prepared for restoration. There were burned out foundations on the block and a pile of adobe bricks which looked like it had previously been a house. I shot off these photos in around ten minutes while the light held out.

Even though a few of the houses were wide open and we could easily have walked in, there was a cop circling around watching us and it was too dark inside to take photos anyway. I looked in some of the broken windows at the dark rooms inside and kind of liked being on the outside looking in, in a sense, it lent an abstract aspect of infinite possibilities for me. Of the shadowed interiors, I let my mind wander on what they could be.

As a structure, an old house can stir a feeling of new beginning or a place where you can write a fantasy destination onto the end of your life. New rooms and new situations can be found in the corners or shadows in these old houses. Perhaps, there is place where all the struggles and memories we’ve stored up in our minds can find a place to rest with us in one of these houses.

Houses all have their own personality. It comes from the basic architecture of the structure, the lives they’ve lead and the spirits who still linger — call them ghosts or whatever term you chose. My feeling for these houses were all very positive and I could imagine myself living happily in any of the smaller ones pictured. They’re only one block away from the locally owned ice cream parlor! The possibilities of finding a new life here would be endless. Those are good thoughts!

 

Winding Our Way Out of 2016

It’s the end of 2016. I keep hearing, “Now that everything has changed” and “I’m so glad this year has finally come to an end.” I turned off my phone and TV and NPR and headed out into the vast outback between Tucson and Phoenix, a space blanketed with epic landscapes carved by the ravages of nature and those of humankind. Most of the small towns — dots on the map really where clusters of trailers are strewn into small valleys — are inhabited by miners and fed by the local economies built around copper mining. Times have already been hard for these folks for the past couple years. I’d doubt they have felt anything related to the recent elections. They are screwed no matter what. Copper prices on the world market fluctuate and it directly impacts their lives. The attack ads aired on network TV probably had little impact on their hopes or dreams. I’m sure the majority of people sitting in front of their TVs were only hoping that the price of copper rose again to the levels required to get the mines running at full capacity and being offered as much overtime as they could handle.

Meanwhile, Christmas has come and gone and the majority of children in more urban areas opened up the mass of presents that they had been hoping for and expected — all the high priced high tech gadgets produced cheaply in China, Korea and Taiwan and ordered from Amazon or bought from the big box importer stores. It’s hard to imagine these families really feeling that their lives have suddenly changed.

What perhaps has changed is the sudden fear of change. The fear of the unknown. The fear that the types of upheavals that are hitting the small mining communities now (and hit the Rust Belt after the passage of NAFTA) will somehow hit the educated and privileged urban-suburban white collar workers. The same people that pretend they care about those who have been hit by the global economy, but who do nothing to change things.

At some level, none of us are really in the position to change anything other than ourselves. Getting out into world and leaving our small lives behind can sometimes put things into proper perspective. Do the clouds rushing by think that anything has changed? Does the sly coyote worry about what has changed since yesterday to today? What does the wind tell you when you stand on the top a deserted bluff and look out at the world around you?

I think it’s there to remind us of how small we are and how lucky we are to experience all the good things that happen to us everyday. Maybe some days it is just a stray feeling of happiness for seemingly no reason at all. Perhaps feeling close with someone else in some unexpected way. Or maybe, just noticing how the shadow of the mountains moves across the landscape.

Anyway, there have been surprises this year for sure and who knows what the next will bring, but if we hold onto the good we experience in spite of the negativity, fear and hatred being thrown around us everyday, things will be better for everyone. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

For times when things seem hard, I’ve written this song… Don’t Let It Get You Down!

Man with a Suitcase – Album Available Now!

Man with a Suitcase is available now in physical CD form and can be found on Amazon.com (eligible for Prime and SuperSaver shipping) or directly through my eStore. Digital sales are being handled by bandcamp — the entire album is also available for full preview streaming on bandcamp.

As always, thank you all for the support you give me, it really means a lot!

Also, for my online friends, I am offering a half price promo for the digital album download (discount code: “friends”).

Note: All photography and layout work done by me!

Solar Culture Gallery – Man With a Suitcase

Opening Saturday 11 June 2016

6-9 PM

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery. They were used as the album art for the cover of my upcoming music CD, Man With a Suitcase. The first two are from Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea and the third from an abandoned motel in Wilcox, AZ.

Come see the show if you are in town!

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

For more information, contact Mark Hahn at markhahnpublishing@gmail.com.

All images and content copyrighted 2016 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

Finding a Home – Gleeson, AZ

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Gleeson, AZ is an old mining town just east of Tombstone. You take Gleeson Rd. and head east out of Tombstone toward Elfrida. Around halfway there, you turn left on North High Lonesome Rd. This is where you find the remains of the old town. On the hillside to the east, you can see the abandoned ruins of the Copper Belle Mine. At it’s high point, the town supported a population of 500 people, but the copper played out by the late 1930’s. The town was slowly abandoned. Ruins dot the landscape, but you can drive right up onto the mine if you have a four wheel drive vehicle.

Somewhere north of Tombstone, we had stopped at a gas station. Waiting inside the convenience store, there was a couple dressed in a combination of desert goth and prospecting costume. They didn’t talk to anyone and they both looked almost one hundred years old. I wondered what life they thought they were living and whether it was a delusion or an aspiration. In the end, I shrugged and figured it was none of my business what they were doing, just that it seemed a miracle that they had found each other and were out here making a life together in this godforsaken wasteland.

Driving through the remains of Gleeson, we followed the dirt road that led in the general direction of the mine. On our way, we passed this old trailer home. Kim asked if I wanted to stop and photograph it. Part of me felt that I’ve already been inside too many old trailers already, but I shrugged, why not? The wind howled as we walked toward the trailer. I looked up on the hill and thought it must have been a beautiful sight to see the old mine first thing  in the morning. I imagined what it would feel like living in this small trailer back when it was new. I’ve never been “house proud” and living out here had a certain charm that people in gated communities probably could never get.

Unlike many of the abandoned places we go into, this trailer had no feeling of having harbored past domestic horrors. There didn’t seem to be a single bad ghost lingering anywhere. It felt like home and I felt like I was suddenly in my element when I started photographing it. It brought on a nice calm within me.

While shooting these photographs, I realized that after my father died when I was a teen, that I had lost all my feeling of having a home. The instability his death caused inside me  and the chaos it threw me into made me question the stability of everything. Sometimes I feel that when I look at anything, that I am witnessing the process of entropy tearing everything apart – nothing can last and anything that alluded to permanence was just an illusion. No one else seems to be aware of it like I am. I guess being in someplace like this trailer strips the illusions away for me and I just enjoy finding beauty in what is there. With these interior shots, I very much wanted to capture the feeling of permanence while recognizing that even when it doesn’t last, that there is somehow important to appreciate in the temporary respite from being alone when you are somewhere safe with someone you care about.

Later in the day, when Kim and I parked to get tacos in a little familiar restaurant in Wilcox, I stopped and looked at the listings in a real estate office’s window. There was a little house on more than five acres of land selling for only $54,000. Wow, that seemed like an incredible deal. Kim looked at the listing, said she’d move there. It’s a good dream. Things haven’t been easy lately and I’ve been feeling the need to get away. The idea of getting a tiny house in the middle of nowhere on some land and then putting up a couple of steel buildings – one for an art studio and another for music studio seemed like a dream come true. I again thought about that weird couple at the convenience store and laughed inside. Maybe that will be us someday.

The next morning, we stopped at a thrift store in Wilcox and Kim bought me a beat up old Stella guitar. Whatever I end up, I intend on taking this guitar with me.

At Another Crossroads

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The myth of Robert Johnson meeting the Devil and selling his soul in exchange for his remarkable musical talent is legendary. There are commemorative sign posts put up for tourists to see at several intersections purported to be where Johnson made this deal (the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi being the most believed to be credible). The truth of the matter is that we all come to crossroads wherever we turn. Maybe none seem as dramatic to us as Johnson’s, but we all must navigate our own way through life and accept the choices that we make and the fact that they are what take us to wherever we end up.

With the sun setting somewhere over the lost mining town of Christmas, AZ, the sky here looked as if it was suddenly set on fire. We’re at the intersection of Arizona Route 77 and Roundup Dr. – a dirt road. Dripping Springs Wash lies behind the dilapidated double-wide just off the highway. Multiple vehicles are parked out front – some with the hoods up, presumably being repaired. Behind the dark tangled trees, other double-wides, trailers and shacks seem to also be inhabited.

While stepping out to shoot these photos, I briefly thought about of the legend of Robert Johnson and his deal with the Devil. While everyone seems to hear the myth and think that Johnson’s music somehow made the deal worthwhile, I wonder. Would I want to be the best artist, photographer, writer or musician for the price of my soul? Hell no! Ability is no substitute for existence or feelings – it’s not about recognition. It’s not about mastering something. It’s not about what you can do. No activity or skill makes up for the emptiness or loneliness in life.

Like most roads in Arizona, Highway 77 is lined with roadside memorials to those whose have been killed along the way. Two lane highways are littered with the dead. People speed home or to the bar. Race off to where there think they need to be. Head on collisions happen so fast that you don’t see them coming – until it’s too late and lives are changed forever. Or lost.

Robert Johnson spent his life on the road. Probably the founding member of the “27 Club.” Many romanticize his death. The idea of burning the candle at both ends – live fast and dying young. The way to go. But in reality, death is never romantic. It’s just the end of life. The casualties are those left living – the ones left holding the bag of shit you leave behind.

While Johnson’s music lives on, his legend lives on. But the human life he lived was not a myth. We don’t know what that really was. What he thought at 2AM while lying in a strange bed and staring at the dark ceiling above him. We don’t know what he actually felt inside — just his story. But even there, the story itself is probably misleading or wrong. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Southern dandy who died in a flurry of romance and murder, he was more likely just the victim of bad moonshine and a case of untreated syphilis. He may have had many woman along the road, but you have to wonder if any of them was really the right woman. When Johnson’s first wife Virginia passed, he wasn’t there by her side, but was instead out drinking whiskey and playing his guitar in some distant roadhouse bar. Perhaps it’s divine justice that Johnson died alone himself.

We all make our own choices and ride with the luck of the road. On this night, at this particular crossroads, it seems from the number of vehicles parked outside the trailers and double-wides that everyone has made it home. Couples eat their dinners together. Turn on the TV and settle in for the night. Some of these dwelling are no doubt their own private little hells, but others, must provide a beautiful dirty refuge from the world outside. No one needs to know what anyone else shares behind their own closed doors, but the things that really matter in life often aren’t seen at all, but just experienced.

When we drove away from this particular crossroads, the stories that came to my mind were the romantic thoughts about couples that had found something between themselves that let them briefly escape the brutal life they had to endure each day in order to survive. How they could find the ability to transcend all the bullshit of the outside world together – even if only for this one Friday night. No roadside memorial makes up for the things you miss in life. Need to remember to stop and experience the things around us right now instead of trying to see what is farther down the road.

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Bombay Beach, Salton Sea – Solar Culture Gallery

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Opening Saturday 27 February 2016

6-9 PM

My Photos on display:

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

These photos were taken in the near ghost town of Bombay Beach on the western shores of the Salton Sea in California. While a dike was built to protect this section of the town from flooding, it is being ravaged by time and neglect just as decisively as the homes and trailers that have been devoured by the sea outside the protection of the dike.

My girlfriend and I made a quick stop here a couple weeks ago on our way to LA to pick up her artwork from the gallery where she had a solo show. Swinging past the Salton Sea was not that far out of our way and it was a nice detour into memories of going here together a few years back. It was nice to find that things hadn’t changed.

We had already been in all these trailers and small deserted houses, but very little had been touched. The same things where still sitting on the deserted tables collecting dust. The same chairs and sofas sat in silent rooms, only now perhaps splitting open a little farther at the seams.

There is something peaceful in this desolation. Even though there is an almost endless stream of tourists and gawkers driving through to experience the ruin and desperation, the few remaining locals seem to take it in stride. None even paid us any mind while we quietly entered the abandoned homes — some with tax documents tacked on the door stating the back taxes that could be paid to take ownership of these properties. One particularly intact trainer sitting on a nice lot could be had for only $7,000. It made me think.

What would it be like to tell everyone to go fuck themselves, plunk down $7,000 and just move in? I’d guess that on a quiet day, my new neighbors would come by to talk, if only out of curiosity to find out why the hell anyone would move here. Maybe they’d understand that you just get fed up with all the bullshit of life and get to a point where you don’t want to be bothered by anything. Maybe they’d be of the same mind. Maybe you’d stop smelling the dead fish and putrid algae blooms after a few weeks.

People buy lottery tickets so they can dream their way out of their current life. I have too much of an understanding of statistics to buy into those dreams, but the dream of moving to Bombay Beach is a plausible fantasy that I can briefly entertain for at least an afternoon. Sometimes anything can look good when seen in the right light.

For more information, contact Mark Hahn at markhahn2000@gmail.com.

All images and content copyrighted 2016 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

Twilight Falling On the Salton Sea

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Born from a 1905 engineering accident which ended up flooding what was then a long time dry lake bed, the Salton Sea is the largest inland body of water in all of California.  As beautiful as it looks at first glance, the high salinity and accumulation of agricultural toxins, has slowly made it inhospitable to most fish and migratory birds. The salinity increases each year due to the sea being a land locked body of water with no outflow whatsoever. The sea lies more than 200 ft. below sea level. The high salinity coupled with periodic algae blooms has resulted in repeated mass fish die offs. The smell from the sea assault you from more than a mile away from its putrid shores.

Driving into Desert Shores, you are confronted with many abandoned and vandalized homes and businesses. The town was founded in the 1950’s as part of the recreational development boom around the sea. During this time, the California Department of Fish and Game actively attempted to stock the sea with game fish. Vacation properties were offered for modest prices and snapped up by nearby Southern Californians. Hollywood big-wigs – such as the Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Guy Lombardo and the Beach Boys docked their boats there and frequented the growing number of posh yacht clubs springing up around the sea. The highly publicized Salton Sea 500 was a world class speed boat racing event that drew huge crowds.

Thousands of lots were sold by speculators, mainly to other speculators, but unfortunately, for those that bought into the dream, the underlying ecological instability of the sea soon became apparent. By the late 1960’s, the sea began to stink from algae blooms that were driven largely by the fertilizer runoff. This sent huge rotting mats of algae onto the beaches. In the late 1970’s, large scale flooding wiped out many seaside businesses. Bombay Beach, across from Desert Shores, was especially hard hit during the years of flooding where a dike was built to protect portions of the town while those with properties outside the dike were destined to be destroyed during the next wave of flooding. In the early 1980’s, the avian and fish populations began dying off in biblical proportions.

Other than thrill seekers driving sand-rails, dirt bikes and quads across the apocalyptic landscape while playing some form of a Mad Max fantasy game of survival, the only other tourists seem to be photographers out in search of “ruin porn.” There is very few places in the USA as devastated and inhospitable as the broken communities around the Salton Sea. Everyone can find whatever aspect of human existence they want in this landscape and these ruins. What makes the Salton Sea’s failure unique is that at its root, it was built on greed, speculation and the search for luxury and leisure. This doesn’t make the hopelessness and desperation felt by many of those who cling to their belief in the sea any less real, but it is a far cry from big business or big government taking advantage of the less fortunate – this boom was built on the human nature to get something for nothing while denying the laws of nature.

Driving into Desert Shores at sunset on a Friday night, you see small groups of children playing in front of piles of building debris. A few parents can be seen sanding away in the shadow, congregated in groups while drinking beer together. These are the hardcore remnants of those who moved here expecting to find a paradise in the desert. Even before you get out of your vehicle, the year round stench of the sea hits you. The Bible describes Hell and Satan’s lair as smelling of Sulphur (brimstone) and dead fish. This is exactly what the breeze coming off the Salton Sea smells like today. It put me into a visceral state of distress. The shores are crusty with dried alkali salt deposits covered with great depths of dead fish, tortured and severed fish heads and white bleached fish vertebrae instead of sand. Local children can be seen running along the shore seemingly unaware of the repulsiveness of the scene.

At the heart of Desert Shores stands the remains of the Marina Mobile Estates Clubhouse – now completely trashed and wide open for explorers and vandals to enter. Behind the clubhouse is a marina and harbor. An old fishing barge is scuttled along the shore of the harbor. Scattered all along the jetty are corroded and salt encrusted remains of docks and hoists. The sun was setting over this scene on our backs and I was mesmerized by the beautiful light. I quickly scrambled across the millions of dead fish parts and ignored the stench while taking these photos. Then in a matter of minutes, the light was gone and it was just bleak and disgusting and I felt the need to flee before I threw up from revulsion.

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Back by the parking lot, the Desert Shores Fire Department shows off their shiny fire truck. It even looked as if it ran. I imagined that anyone with homeowner’s insurance would hope that their home burned to the ground and wasn’t saved by the volunteer fire department. The payout would maybe be enough to grab your family and flee this godforsaken place. But after thinking about my own life and how often I wistfully thought about how freeing it would be if everything I owned was burned up, I realized that my initial elatedness is always followed by thoughts of things that I would be worried about losing. I guess when you are somewhere, there are always good things to hold onto and the people living here seem to find peace in the hopelessness and desolation.