Mark Hahn Photography

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Bombay Beach, Salton Sea – Solar Culture Gallery

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Opening Saturday 27 February 2016

6-9 PM

My Photos on display:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twilight Falling On the Salton Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Solar Culture Gallery – Miami Walk

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Opening Saturday 3 October 2015

6-9 PM

My Photos on display:

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

These are three photos from the last night walk we took in Miami, AZ. It is a special place to go for me. I can dream about moving into one of the small three room little wooden shacks on the side of the hill — life could be much simpler.

Miami is just down the road from Claypool (where the Shamrock Bar is located). The Elvis room is further down Highway 60 in the El Ray Motel up in Globe.

All things connect in some way. This is a song I wrote about the Globe/Miami area:

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

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

Lucky Strike – My Music CD available now!

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My music CD, Lucky Strike, is available for ordering now! It can be found on Amazon or through my eStore: https://www.createspace.com/2291080. Digital sales are going through Bandcamp: https://markhahn.bandcamp.com/releases. Supporting independent artists can make you feel good, and if you’re interested, you might like my songs, so check them out. Uncompressed mastered tracks sound way better than my youtube posts or what bandcamp streams. Thanks all for support!

 Back cover:

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The photos and layout were done by me. Background on the cover photo is that it a “bridge” that my youngest son built when he was very young. We were exploring Sabino Canyon (here in Tucson) together and he built this structure before we both jumped into the stream for a cold swim. The back cover is from an abandoned trailer park, shot through the tattered screen.

It Ain’t Me Babe – I’m Not There

Reposting this to my artist website for the discussion on being an artist.

Guitar vs. Meds

In I’m Not There, Todd Haynes explores the spaces between inspiration and hopelessness in a film based on the life and trials of Bob Dylan. Clearly, Dylan was a casualty of his early runaway fame and the expectations placed on him because of it – while in the process, transformed by the public into a commodity instead of a person. The tragedy is of course that Dylan chased his own fame in his early career, got what he was after, and then had it turn against him when he tried to evolve as a person and a musician. Fame is never free and fans end up feeling they own you for their support. The film is based on a patchwork of facets of Dylan at different periods in his life — and for this — he is portrayed by 6 different actors, including Cate Blanchett who probably does the best…

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Solar Culture Gallery – Forest Haven Asylum

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Opening Saturday 6 January 2015

6-9 PM

My Photos on display:

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

These are three photos from our trip to the Forest Haven Asylum in Laurel, MD. We spent three days inside these walls exploring the abandoned facility. After I finish my upcoming music CD project, I plan on releasing a book that will document the interior of Forest Haven and my emotional response to being there.

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

All images and content copyrighted 2015 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

Drainage Ditch

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There are places that people just like going. Places that are nice to spend spare moments in and explore. This is a drainage ditch that is across the street from the Grease Monkey oil charge place that services my car. I hand them the keys and walk across the street to this land behind the Doughnut Wheel doughnut shop and a Fry’s supermarket. There is also a dollar store in the same plaza. I like climbing up and down the drainage ditch and exploring the area in behind the loading docks and the small houses in the nearby neighborhood. I don’t know why I like it so much, but it’s a place for me to feel momentarily free from all the crushing pressures of daily life. I took these photos the last time I had my car’s oil changed.

I rarely meet anyone in this place, but once when I was coming out I was swarmed by cops. They said the place was a common place for drug dealers to hang out. I laughed and said I had never seen anyone here. The most aggressive cop got in my face and asked me if I had been using drugs. I laughed and said, “I haven’t even had a beer for over twenty years!” He then told me to empty my pockets.

“I’m friends with a public defender who told me that you don’t have have submit to any search without a warrant,” I siad.

“See that drainage ditch, it’s all no trespassing! I can arrest you right now for just being in there!” the cop snarled at me.

“There’s not a single sign anywhere!” I said.

“There doesn’t have to be a sign! It’s city property!” the cop shouted.

“I’m pretty there have to be No Trespassing signs every 25 feet if it’s posted!” I snapped back.

At this point, the asshole cop grabbed me by the arm and said he was taking me in. He had the whole intimidation thing down pat. He liked it. Then he asked, “So what are you going to do if we find drugs in your pocket?”

I took this to be a threat that he could plant whatever he wanted on me and at that point there would nothing I could do about it.

Thankfully, at this moment, the “good cop” stepped up and asked in a nice voice, “What were you doing down there anyway?”

I pulled my out my camera and told him I was just taking photos. The good cop asked, “Taking photos of graffiti?”

I said, “Something like that.”

Good cop told me he had a friend that went out and did stuff like that.

Then the asshole cop interrupted, “You can either empty your pockets right here for me or we can haul you in and we’ll search you there.”

The good cop gave me a look that I took to mean, “Just do it, I can’t stop this asshole cop from doing what he’s going to do.”

I shrugged, “Once you put it that way,” and turned my pockets inside out. They were empty.

Asshole cop snarled, “Now get out of here before I run you in for trespassing.”

I glared at him and walked slowly back to pick up my car.

When I took these photos there were no cops in sight.

It Might Get Loud – For A New Guitar Player

I’m cross-posting this to my artist website because — while primarily about music — it is also about the creative process (and I compare the role of fetishization of musical equipment to photographic equipment).

Guitar vs. Meds

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So my girlfriend wanted to watch It Might Get Loud with me since we’ve been playing guitars together for a while and I had never seen it before. I passed it up when it was initially released (2008) because, frankly, I was never a huge fan of Jimmy Page, the Edge or Jack White. But now that I’ve picked up a guitar myself and have been playing for almost a year, I have more interest in what other guitarists have to say about playing, even if I don’t love their music.

It Might Get Loud is a documentary film with extensive personal interviews with these three musicians combined with footage of their past performances and history. They offer their thoughts on how they became leading guitar legends. The three’s experiences put together, span three generations in rock. It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been influenced by rock evolution somehow…

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