Mark Hahn Photography

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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!

 

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

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.

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.

Digital Sales – My New CD Available Now

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While physical CDs will not be available for another two weeks, digital pre-sales are available now from bandcamp.com now (https://markhahn.bandcamp.com/)! For the first week of pre-sales, I am giving my friends here and on facebook a 50% off discount on anything sold through bandcamp — just enter discount code “friends” to get the discount. I also want to thank everyone who has been supporting my creative endeavors up until now and wish everyone a Happy New Year!

PS  I did the cover photography and layout.

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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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.

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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Joshua Tree Under a Full Moon

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Sometimes the act of photography is more an exercise in seeing something from a different viewpoint than anything else. Sometimes it is more about slowing down and reflecting on how things look and feel. Sometimes photography can help you find a connection between yourself and the world around you.

These photos were taken in Joshua Tree National Park under a full moon. The landscape was much darker than it appears in these long exposure photographs. There was no light to see if a rattlesnake was resting on a rock or under foot as we scrambled over the boulders with our cameras and tripods. Sometimes you just have to trust your instinct and keep on moving.

I took these photos using my Russian Industar-69 manual focus lens adapted for use on my Olympus Pen digital body. I couldn’t see a thing through the camera and framed the shots using a quickly constructed cardboard finder that I made with what was handy in the hotel room and some cheap stuff I picked up at the local Dollar General Store.

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Twentynine Palms is at the crossroads between nowhere and never. You have young military personnel, tourists from all countries and old hippies that are trying to live at the edge of civilization. They all converge here. They all want to get away from something. A friend of mine who lived in Twentynine Palms for a while, told me that he learned really fast not to ask anyone here about their business or why they were here. We all have a history, some people want to keep talking through their past and others just want to move beyond it and live in the present. With the expanse of the Mojave Desert stretching out forever, it gives you the space and freedom to feel whatever you are searching for.