Mark Hahn Photography

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Category: Mining

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:

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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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Going Back For More

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It seems we always have to go back for the things we’ve forgotten. A pack of cigarettes, the mixer so we can drink the booze or the bits of candy that makes this life sweeter. Memories sit on dusty shelves in places we sometimes forget exist. The documents of life lie in piles on the floor, pouring out of boxes that were haphazardly packed away long ago. Sometime we forget that it’s us that gets to pick what we buy. What we pull off the self. So much in life we just do without recognizing the choices we have, even if they are limited.

This is the One Stop Market and Liquor Store located between Winkleman and Hayden. I photographed this abandoned convenience store several years ago and wrote an essay on the subject back then (Road to Ruin). We were passing by the site again recently and decided it’d be nice to just check out what had become of it. Just an informal visit – one lens, no tripod.

One of the side doors was unlocked and open. Things had changed. Things had been taken. The roof had fallen down. It was still the same place though. We thought of where we were at when we came the first time. All the things that had changed and had stayed the same. It’s amazing how we attach memories to things that are not ours. Things we pass through. Places we have been.

The One Stop Market is one of these. Sifting through the stuff left behind, looking for the things that have been lost and forgotten. Sometimes you find things you don’t want to find. It’s better to just keep moving. There are other things to see. Candy is better than booze and coffee better than cigarettes. It’s all there somewhere.

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.

Little Storms and Their Aftermath

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In Arizona, when the time is right, little storms come right out of nowhere. It can be sunny and bright where you are standing, and then, Boom! You’re suddenly hit hard and can no longer see a single thing outside the storm around you.

These storms are as violent as they are sudden. Lightning and flash flooding occurs in minutes. Small wildfires start wherever there is enough fuel to burn. The desert is a tinderbox.

Roads are washed away and power lost. The poor soil often becomes unstable. All you can do is ride out these storms.

While driving toward Globe, just south of Mammoth, we stopped to take in the little storms forming over the landscapes around us. It was still peaceful and calm where we were standing.

 
When they’re done, the waters rush away and within moments, there is nothing left of the little storms other than the cooled air and the smell of fresh green growth. Small flowers burst from nowhere. The scars are transformed into beautiful new growth. After they pass, it’s hard to remember how bad the storms ever were.

Just past Winkelman, the remains of a wild fire were just visible from AZ Highway 77. We stopped and walked through the small valley that had been cut through the rugged mountains by the Gila River. The contrast between the burned forest and the new growth gave a feeling of hope to the hot damp air.

Storms come and go, but the beauty of nature always adapts and things continue on.

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.

Road to Ruin

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There was One Stop between Winkleman and Hayden. It’s been gone for years and is slowly falling into ruin. It is still filled with the remains of what it once was and what it had been to those who stopped here. In some ways, it could have been anywhere. The people who shopped here were like people everywhere. We all have the same basic needs.

It’s forty degrees outside. The woman walks in with no shoes. She is missing teeth.

“You back already,” asks the girl behind the counter.

“It’s still Friday,” laughs the woman.

“Remember, you made me promise not to sell you anything till next Friday.”

“It’s not midnight yet! I meant starting tomorrow.”

Without speaking, the clerk grabs a pint of cheap bourbon, two travel sized bottles of Courvoisier and a pack of generic smokes. She puts them on the counter in front of the woman. The clerk knows exactly what she wants.

“Listen honey, I’m not going to be your babysitter. You came in and made me promise not to sell you any more booze until next Friday. Now you’re here buying more. You have to make up your mind.”

The woman seemed defeated.

“That starts at midnight.”

The woman is drunk and continues on with the argument that the whole world will be new tomorrow —  the lies we tell ourselves to get on with our lives the way they are. In reality, it was already 10:45 so she would probably still be up drinking her bourbon when the new day started.

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The rise of the modern convenience store in America corresponds roughly with the post-depression post-WWII mobilization of the country. This, by extension, was the birth of the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac completed his famous novel On The Road in 1951 and in 1952 the 7-Eleven chain opened its 100th store. Fast food chains were just starting to spread across the country at this time as well — McDonald’s started selling franchises in 1953. Ten years later, Bob Dylan would proclaim, “the times they are a changing.” Only, for Kerouac, he didn’t see it coming. Instead, he looked back at the old American landscape and tried to find something new in it. Perhaps all of us want to look back and find something we’ve missed in our youth. Kerouac lived on apple pie and ice cream as he crossed America.

Ginsberg once told Neal Cassady that he could do anything he wanted to, including living an open and honest existence and being the greatest poet since Rimbaud. Cassady spent his time working menial jobs, fucking women and going to the midget car races — watching little cars go around in circles never getting anywhere new. Cassady was always on a schedule. Drank, fucked, worked and watched the races all by the clock. The schedule was important to keep, maybe more important than what he did. We have to keep moving. We punctuate our time with the little things we do and the products we consume. One Stop offered all the basics.

As a young man living in Detroit — between colleges and jobs — I spent a period of my life working on a novel. Night became day and day night as I fed myself amphetamines and booze. I hammered out fucked up stream of consciousness prose on my dad’s old Smith Corona typewriter. When I could, I tried to sleep during the day.

On cool nights I’d throw on my dad’s old gray cable knit sweater and ride the Honda to one of the all night 7-Elevens to get cigarettes. When no one was around, I’d stay and talk with the cute girl working the graveyard shift. We talked about authors, writing and classic literature. She was taking courses at the local community college.

I should have asked her out — that’s what she wanted. I never figured out how to do it without it coming out like I was looking for a dumb date. What I really wanted to do was just ride around on the Honda with her on the back — her arms around me as we sped through the dark streets of Detroit. Then we could go back to her place and talk about music and literature. I should have just asked her if she wanted to take a ride. It never happened.

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During my move from LA to Tucson, I came across the yellowing unfinished manuscript. It was better than I thought it would be. The characters seemed real. The story was developing into something new and I cared what was going to happen to the characters. After so many years, the novel was as new to me as to anyone else who would have stumbled across it. Then it just ends — like a lot of things.

All the notes for the novel are gone and I can’t remember where the story was supposed to go. I don’t remember where the characters were going to end up — I probably never knew. I also don’t remember much about the girl at the 7-Eleven other than that she made me happy when I talked with her.

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Hotel Reardon – Clifton AZ

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The Hotel Reardon lies at the south end of Clifton, on what was originally US Route 666 — the devil’s highway. The rugged landscape around Clifton make this one hell of a road, especially if you continue north past the Morenci mine. The Reardon Hotel looks sad and menacing as it looms large behind overgrown trees in its drab grayness with its broken and boarded up windows. No Trespassing and No Loitering signs are unceremoniously affixed across the front of the hotel. The original sign is now hidden behind the trees. I was put off by all the No Trespassing signs and the cop who slowed down to give me “the eye” as he drove by — obviously noting that I was no local and probably wondering what I was doing on foot in this battered old Arizona mining town.

In the back of the Hotel I found that someone had kicked in the second floor door and stacked up an assortment of cinder blocks as a makeshift ladder. We had to climb the ladder to reach the threshold of the remnants of an oak doorway from which to pull ourselves up from. Once I saw the back hall open up before me and all the promising doorways — leading to who knows where — there was no turning back. The cop hadn’t circled around to see what we were doing yet and the Hotel seemed reasonably intact. It was all ours. The sun was setting fast and we had to rush to take photographs before we lost all our light.

Hotels are nothing but spaces where people stay. It felt like the good, the bad and the ugly had all stayed in the Reardon. You could feel their presence in the walls. Their spirits were on the doors and rising up through the holes in the floors.

Clifton was a tough town with a tough history and tough working conditions. When times are hard, people get harder. Many bad things must have happened in the Reardon — rape, murder, sorrow, insanity and love all probably found their way into these rooms. Walking into each room I felt all these harrowing and exhilarating pasts. I could be a thousand people looking out each window — out across the crumbling town to the crumbling rocks thrown up from the mine that surrounds it.

It felt like you could find everything good that you ever left behind within these walls, within these rooms. It also felt that everything bad that you had left behind was closed in one room down the hall, only you didn’t know which one it was. Opening each door meant opening another memory. I’ve lived in transient hotels that had this same feeling — the Reardon bought all these mixed memories back to me.

Things that happen in hotels happen everywhere, they are just more open because of the shared walls and doors that lead into the common hallway where everyone has to pass each other in the morning. For some reason, I remembered in eighth grade when my family moved to Grosse Pointe. The kid living in the mansion across the street secretly showed me his parent’s BDSM sex toys. I didn’t know what to make of them, especially given the apparent normalness of his parents. Two days later the father blew his brains out. The gunshot woke me up.