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!

 

Solar Culture Gallery – Waves Crash In

Opening Saturday 8 October 2016

6-9 PM

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I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery. They were used as the album art for the cover of my new music CD, Waves Crash In. All three were taken at the Salton Sea. That is a George Jones LP sitting on the table where it had been left by last owners of the abandoned trailer (Bombay Beach).

Come see the show if you are in town!

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

This is the front cover of Waves Crash In:

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The official announcement for the album is here (showing all album art and CD design).

Waves Crash In is available for purchase right now from Amazon.com here.

Digital distribution is being handled by bandcamp.com where the album is available here (along with my previous three albums).

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

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

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.

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.

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Here and There

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I’ve been drawn to this little dried up oasis for more than twenty years. The first time I stopped, I snapped some grainy b&w Tri-X photos with a little Olympus ECR rangefinder camera. Sometimes, you can’t help remembering that you’ve been in the same spot over and over again – all you know for certain is that the earth has spun round beneath you too many times to count. There really is no escaping yourself.

The Interstate-8 is the only direct freeway to San Diego from Tucson. There is little in between the two cities (unless you count Yuma, which is kind of one of those sweaty armpit stops along the way to anywhere that you might be going). The frontage road that takes you to this deserted gas station and restaurant is partially blocked by a barrier with spray painted letters proclaiming that the road is closed, but you can drive right around it. When we stopped this time, I noted that the little trailer that I had once dreamed of living in had been hauled away, but the road was still the same. Some strips of pavement feel timeless, as if they force you to re-evaluate where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Stepping into the ruined buildings, it was clear that the property had been re-appropriated recently and someone had tried to make a new go of it – trying to resurrect an old dream of independence and defiance. I don’t know how I missed this. I would have stopped and given them some business – supported these rugged people, whoever they were, trying to wring a dream from the parched earth.

I don’t know where my old prints or negatives are from this shoot are, but I found this set of low resolution scanned images. They’re from a long time ago and were sized for a VGA monitor – boy have times changed! What’s interesting is how similar my Olympus Pen E-P1 digital feels compared to the old Olympus ECR that I shot these with. Photography is photography and art is art – some dreams never die.

Added: After giving these photos some further thought, I remembered that when taking the black and whites that I had my camera in one hand and my then 2 year old daughter in my other. We were on our way to Sea World and the beach. I carried her through the wreckage, worried she’d fall on the broken glass that was everywhere. It was kind of like seeing things new for both of us. Before she was born, I hadn’t picked up a camera creatively for almost 20 years. Even though I started at the Art Institute of Chicago as a photo major, I redirected my creative efforts into painting and sculpture after getting there. For me, it’s interesting comparing the black and white photos which were essentially travel “snap shots” at the time and my newer color photos which I consider a little more developed and practiced. Looking back can be a good thing. Being happy where you’re at is better!

Note on gear: When I first started getting back into photography, I bought a boxed up old used darkroom which included a sweet Omega B-22 enlarger. Unfortunately, the lame-ass no-name lens that came with it was kind of trashed. These prints were made before I upgraded to the biting sharp el-Nikkor 50mm. The Olympus ECR was a very respectable camera for its time and is still really nice if you’re shooting film!

Trail of Dumpsters

trail_of_dumpsters-8I wanted to take my young son out to breakfast before his big musical theater performance. It was one of those father/son moments that is really nothing big, but feels like it is—$2.99 breakfast specials. It’s the kind of thing my grampa would do with me when I was young.

As I held the restaurant door open so we could go inside, I found myself looking around the back of the building at the scrubby desert landscape—it was strewn with dumpsters and neglect. Somehow, no matter where I go in life or where I am, I’m always drawn to places like these.

Maybe it’s the loneliness that fills these places that no one wants to go—the places most people want to forget exist. Maybe it’s just a nice place to go and be alone. Maybe it’s the possibility of a metaphoric action where I can symbolically dump all the stuff that I’d like to forget—have it hauled away by someone else. I’ve got plenty of stuff to fill these dumpsters with.

After I dropped my son off at the theater, I returned to walk this trail of dumpsters. A homeless man whose eyes were as dark and menacing as pits of pure sorrow stepped out and crossed my path. He confronted me both physically and verbally. His words were completely incomprehensible. I don’t know what he wanted. Maybe he was just angry at the whole goddamned world. I didn’t flinch as I walked past him. I felt as firmly in my own world as he was in his.

Sometimes the things you put out are never hauled away. They lie there and rot. You somehow can’t let them go. You somehow can’t walk away from them. You find yourself going back over and over again looking for something new in them. Sometimes you put chairs under the trees so you can just sit and think.

Maybe we’re drawn to the comfort of the known, no matter how bad it is. Maybe it’s just something that we have to show our respects to—like a private moment when you close your eyes and ask a dead loved one’s spirit to know you haven’t forgotten them and that they still mean a lot to you. We all hold things inside that make us cry—our own little pits of sorrow.

When I watched my son singing and dancing in his performance later in the day, I didn’t think about what should be thrown into the dumpsters. Thankfully, we don’t always have to wrap our anger and sorrow into tattered bags and drag them around with us everywhere we go, like the homeless man was doing when he crossed my path with his bag of aluminum cans and rags.
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