Mark Hahn Photography

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Category: Copperbelt

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:

Inauguration Day – Deep in Trump Country

trumpcountry-11I’ll just say that the politics of the last year have left me completely disgusted, so when it came to Inauguration Day, I really just wanted to forget the whole ordeal and the ugly campaigns that led to it. My girlfriend and I decided to just ditch out of the whole thing and take ourselves off the grid and ignore the controversy and the protests. We were blessed by beautifully overcast skies which are rare here in southern AZ.

So here we were, driving down a desolate highway only a few miles from the US and Mexican border somewhere south of Benson and Wilcox, AZ and we crossed over this bridge and see a wonderful winter wooded grove rising up out of the desert along a flowing creek. That’s when we decided to get out and investigate. It was like another world, so remote and removed from outside worries.

It was hardly like the wind or the trees cared about who won the election and nor were they filled with rage and hatred. For myself, letting go of everything and experiencing this stillness and remoteness was the perfect way to spend this day! While many other people have simply let go of all hope and are becoming completely suicidal because of politics, I look to scenes like these to hold onto hope.

I didn’t connect the dots until going through these photographs just now that ironically, in our attempt to escape the inauguration and politics, that we landed right here in the heart of Trump country! AZ is a Red state, aside from a few counties with university populations. Liberals here pretty much have to accept that our votes don’t count, even though I do always vote.

Later, we stopped at a diner which only had a sign that proclaimed “Food.” Inside, it was clear that everyone eating was a heartland conservative that probably voted for Trump. I shrugged. It was friendly and we got fantastic bacon cheese burgers to eat.

The other customers were primarily ranchers and workers in related businesses. They didn’t appear to have much fight in them. They were just beaten down and many were missing teeth. They were mostly here for the all-you-could-eat catfish special.

On inauguration day, many museums closed their doors. I personally felt that it was a counterproductive gesture. While Trump supporters would be watching the inauguration, museums could have been a space of sanctuary for those needing to look beyond the election and find some hope. Really, the important things we have are our love for each other, the beauty of nature and our culture. No politicians care about us. When you die, it doesn’t matter who you voted for and when you turn your back on everything but politics, you’ve essentially let them win. I will continue moving forward and finding beauty in everything I can until I’m gone. That was the joy I found in taking these photographs!

In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty!

-Phil Ochs

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!

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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Photography and Spatial Memory

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We lose the memories of many specific moments that shape us into the people we become. There are too many details to hold onto so we’re left with the incompleteness of abstract emotions that have been imprinted in our mind through experience. As a photographer, rediscovering the spaces of these imprints can be meaningful exploration – shedding light into who we are and how we’ve gotten to wherever we ended up.

Exploring abandoned domestic spaces lets us construct temporary structures that allow us to experience some of our orphaned emotional memories that have nothing else to attach themselves to. To a certain degree, we all share the same common basic human needs and live in similar domestic environments designed to meet those needs. Viewing these spaces as they fall into varying degrees of ruin can trigger memory based deja vu. It doesn’t matter that the space is not technically our own, in fact the response can be even more powerful because it isn’t our own. Sometimes the possible is much more exciting or troubling than what has actually happened. The connections we uncover often broaden our emotional responses.

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If we can imagine that we have been somewhere in our past, even though it is not from our literal past, the feelings stirred up can be veryy real. Feelings are what count most in life, not the explicit objects we associate them with. If we can allow ourselves to feel our past memories while standing in a found-space we can sometimes sew together the discontinuities that have been left within ourselves. Without a mirror to reflect and fortify the self-image that we have created in life, we can sometimes feel ourselves as just who we are – including all the pain, the satisfaction and the insecurities. It is the spark of existence that makes us who we are, not the objects we surround ourselves with or the accomplishments we stack up and brag about over our lifetime.

Art photography can give us a doorway into discovering our abstract internal spaces. It’s another way of connecting with what is already there within us. Unlike the other arts though, photography is limited by reality. Reality is our artist’s medium – we create our work from what is real and discoverable. One of my photography professors started out his class saying, “If nothing else, after taking this course, you will come out possessing another way of seeing.” This is the true gift of photography. When you are really successful, others can see something new and personal through your work as well.

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Trespassing into the wreckage of other people’s past lives often puts you in touch with the residue of all our collective pasts. None of us is really as special as we feel. The act of trespassing into someone’s abandoned home is of course legally questionable, but probably more problematic in an ethical sense since in essence, we are acting as thieves — appropriating what at one time was inside someone else’s personal boundaries and using it for our own creative purposes. Legal issues aside, I believe as long as the original occupants are not identified or exploited, that appropriating scenes from their abandoned spaces to use as a vehicle of expression of my own emotional memories is not terribly problematic.

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Many things cannot be created from scratch, they need to be discovered. When you trespass into the unknown, you are already on hyper-alert. You don’t know what or who you will encounter when you turn a blind corner. You can make you feel both fear and excitement. Fear of the unknown in the form of danger and excitement in the endless possibility of discovery.

Excitement and happiness are easily understand, but fear is an ancient emotion residing in the amygdala – hidden somewhere in the deepest and most primitive part of our brain. Fear ties our earliest memories and emotions to the present moment. At the edge of a fight-or-flight reaction we take in our surroundings differently than under normal circumstances. We move quickly through a space, sizing up our surroundings. Certain things trigger an emotional response. Pow! Snap! You catch it in your viewfinder.

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Literal objects trigger expected memories. For me, when I see an old pack of Chesterfields lying on the ground in some abandoned place I remember that my grandfather smoked them. It is a predictable response. Sometimes though, when I run across the right combination of elements – perhaps a special light playing of wood paneling in an abandoned kitchen, I can momentarily imagine what it felt like to be with him. I can hear his voice and smell the bacon cooking from when he made me breakfast in the morning. I can’t predict these memory triggers since they are so abstract in nature, but the memories and emotions that come from them can be so immediate and direct that the triggers must be set somewhere in the depths of my mind.

Memories lie deeper than the scraps of paper that we collect – more than the two dimensional photos and birthday cards that we save and accidentally leave in the houses we vacate. Memories are inscribed into our minds in multidimensional space with complex connections that even we cannot decipher. Lists and dates are just simple data points. The wholeness of memory is experienced through indescribable emotions, triggered by the unexpected. Depending on our ability to let go and open our eyes, we can find meaning in many different places.

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Landscape – Kelvin AZ

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Kelvin Arizona is a small unincorporated community north-west of Kerney. You can reach it either by Arizona Highway 177 or via the (mostly dirt) Florence-Kelvin Highway. After getting totally creeped out by the prisons and oppressive law enforcement that is present in Florence, we took the Florence-Kelvin Highway just to get out of Florence and away from people. This is how we stumbled onto Kelvin. The desert along this highway is desolate and beautiful. Kelvin is built along the Gila River and a railroad line servicing the nearby mining interests. By the banks of the Gila River is a lush flood plain that is dotted with a few old homes that have been either burned or flooded out. This is where these photos were taken.

Miami After Dark

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The hills around Miami Arizona are owned by the Freeport McMoRan mining corporation. In a way, everything is this town is owned by this company. Without it, there are no homes, no shops, no restaurants or bars. Copper prices are soaring and the mine is chewing up the earth around Miami at an incredible pace. Men are working down in the hole 16 hours a day. Earth is being moved in the amount of mega tons a day. Miami is a boom-town.

New fences with plenty of razor-wire have been erected around the mining company’s property. Security trucks can be seen creeping along the dirt roads crisscrossing the hillsides. The gaurds pause to wonder what two photographers on the top of the hill are doing. We’ve trespassed here before, but not this time. When there’s money involved, things get serious. I don’t want to end up in jail.

Down below, you hear the laughter of all the drinking locals. When you’ve worked as hard as many of these men have, you have a lot of steam to blow off. It all starts out as fun. It’s not until later that the trouble begins. You can read all about it in the Copper County News. Petty violence is a weekly part of the rough life lived in Miami.

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Down by the Railroad Tracks – Benson, AZ

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There’s something about going down to the railroad tracks that makes you never want to come back. It is a place between nowhere and everywhere you ever wanted to go. Very few Americans living outside the congested East Coast have ever actually traveled by rail, but perhaps because the country was built on rails, we feel the mechanics of the railroad in our souls. Maybe it’s the scale of the machinery, the earthy smell of the grease or the feeling that the whole damned thing is completely unstoppable that leaves us in awe, but being in the proximity of a train gives us a place to put our heart — even when we see the train simply passing us by.

Perhaps a quarter mile east of 4th Street in Benson Arizona — off a dirt road — you come to an uncontrolled railroad crossing. 4th Street is the main drag in Benson and passes by both Reb’s Diner and the Quarter Horse RV Park and Motel. Small hills poke up from behind the railroad tracks. Old ties, broken equipment and steel drums are pushed up against the fence.

These tracks are part of the San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad (SPSR) — an Arizona shortline railroad that is currently operating a connection between the main Union Pacific Railroad in Benson to a stop in Curtiss, Arizona. This makes up barely a ten mile stretch of track which is used primarily for transporting the chemicals needed by the mining industry and local fertilizer manufacturing facilities. Until recently, the line continued south to Bisbee and then east to a station outside of Douglas, AZ (home of the famous Gadsden Hotel).

In its heyday, railroads serviced not only mining and industrial needs in this area, but provided basic transportation for many. But in 2006, the SPSR shut down all services south of Curtiss and most of the track was ripped up shortly afterward. Some of the land was converted into a natural riparian conservation areas.

The sun was just setting as we parked our vehicle by the unlocked SPSR gate and entered its land. We looked down the tracks toward the main buildings. All were very small. The weather was beautiful, and if nothing else, it seemed like a nice place to take a walk. In the distance there was another couple walking along the tracks. It was hard to guess where they had come from or where they were going.

In most towns, there really is a “wrong side of the tracks.” Sometimes you don’t know know why you are drawn there and sometimes you don’t know which side you are on. In Benson, it isn’t clear which side is which, but I’m sure the locals know. To us it didn’t matter. The sky was beautiful when the sun set around us.

Solar Culture Gallery – Letting Light Into the Dirty Corners

Letting_light_in1Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ

Opening Saturday 22 February 2014

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These are some early photographs I shot when I first started shooting with my girlfriend Kim. Up until then I did everything artistic completely alone. We met at a Solar Culture Gallery opening when we both hung work. We talked about my photographs. Where I found what I shot. Within a week we met up to shoot photos together in the alleys downtown. Shortly after that, we started heading out into the Arizona Copperbelt. It changed everything. These photos are from Safford and Winkelman AZ, not that it strictly matters where they were taken. We could have been anywhere and we could have found the same thing.

My Photos On Display:

When you take your photography seriously, as do I, shooting photos together with someone else takes a lot of trust and respect. You have to recognize when to give the other person space to do their own thing and them you. At its core, the creative process is both personal and private. You can’t share this comfortably with many people.

Probably what was hardest for me to give up was the exclusivity of discovery when shooting with Kim. When you are out by yourself and stumble on some fragile bit of amazing reality, you feel like an explorer. Your discoveries are your own. When you go out with someone else, you give this up. You can’t take ownership of any one thing you find since it is right there, free for anyone to shoot. This is especially apparent when you find yourselves shooting the exact same thing basically side by side. You have to completely let go of feelings of possession and ownership of what you see.

Unlike other arts, you have to accept the fact that when you are out shooting together — and have very similar equipment — that theoretically you could even take the exact same photograph. This doesn’t happen, but it could. For me, this ended up freeing me because by giving up exclusivity and ownership of my subject, it forces me to more thoroughly concentrate on my emotional intent and the aspects of my art that are independent of subject.

Once, during a particularly brutal critique in art school I ended shooting down some asshole who didn’t get what I was trying to do with my work.

“I don’t care what I’m shooting or whether or not you like my subjects! I use reality as my medium — whatever reality I come across — and I make something new with it. The subject is just whatever happens to be handy at the time. The emotional meanings are in the underlying abstract connections that hold my photographs together.”

There was probably a lot of youthful bravado in this proclamation, but I meant it and it was still true.

It doesn’t matter to me that most people will my see my photos on a deadpan literal plane. I like the tension between literal and abstract, the inanimate mixed with the most deeply emotional content and the magic found among the trash. Shooting with Kim has probably resulted in me developing this sense more keenly than I ever would have had I continued to shoot my photos alone.

Interestingly, shooting together doesn’t get in my way of exploring the emotions of existential aloneness, it just makes it more fun — and fun is one emotion that I’ve never explored much in my art. Fun is something better to experience in real life. Art provides an avenue to work through the difficulties that have piled up inside you over your lifetime. Difficulties are easier to overcome when you are out enjoying and exploring life with someone else.

K_n_M_douglasPhoto: Kim Nicolini