On The Hilltop

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There’s a hilltop in Bisbee, Arizona, just a few miles north of the Mexican border. It sits over Brewery Gulch, casting its shadow over the canyon homes. The last several months I lived in Bisbee I was in a deeply disturbing relationship and everything around me seemed to be in chaos, but I would hike up to the cross on the hill every morning with my dog and enjoy the quiet and the peace.

I’m not a religious man, but I believe in the power of intention. I’d heard stories about the man who built this shrine, decades ago, and about the effort it took, hauling concrete and materials, an armload at a time, from Tombstone Canyon up to the hilltop. In the years since the cross was erected, other people have added onto the shrine. The ashes of peoples’ loved ones have been spread there, piles of candles have been left on the backside of the hill where a shrine to the Guadalupe Virgin has been built. A mural of Jesus is painted on the side of the hill and a monument to the people who have died in the desert trying to cross into America has been established; at the site, people deposit items found in the desert, left behind by border crossers, from backpacks and worn-out shoes to tooth brushes and baby bottles.

My heart is still in the Mule Mountains, even if it’s no longer in Bisbee. I will never forget the brief moments, sitting on the hilltop on those silent mornings, watching the sun rise over the desert.

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May 10, 2017 – Service

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“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
~Susan Sontag

I’m not sure if this place still exists. Unfortunately, I don’t even remember where it is. It’s probably somewhere on South Stone Avenue, or in the warehouse district on South Park Avenue. I suppose I could look it up, but it really isn’t important. I just remember riding my bike through the wrecked car lots, the warehouses, over the railroad tracks by the lumber yards and steel yards and welding operations.

I try to image what these places must have looked like when they were brand new. I can’t seem to conjure the image in my head. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a salvage yard or a warehouse that looked clean and new, with fresh signage and rust-free construction. These places always look like they’ve been there forever – they always look old. Old and tired.

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March 26, 2017 – The Road To Globe

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In another diversion from ‘Mexico in March,’ I need to break from the theme for my short little trip to Pinetop, Arizona. But hey – in an abstract kind of way, this territory was, once-upon-a-time, Mexican territory anyway.

On the long road north through Oracle and Catalina, the state route winds through a series of small mining towns, the first of which is a nearly-dead little hamlet called Mammoth. Several years ago, the smokestacks from the local smelt were dynamited and razed to the ground. Aside from local sheriffs patrolling the main roads and taking advantage of speed traps, there isn’t much here to speak of. Abandoned cars, heaps of illegally dumped garbage, and two gas stations represent most of what remains.

Once upon a time there was industry here. Today, it’s a way-station, a dusty relic from the early years of the twentieth century. Double-wide trailers and rusted pick-up trucks dot the landscape; plywood panels obstruct the busted windows of the failed and abandoned old-world businesses.

It has been about fifteen years since I passed through this territory. Even though the garbage, collapsing buildings, and general despair, I think this is a uniquely beautiful place. The trailers are rotting beer cans in the desert, corroded and sinking into the earth. The unforgiving landscape is slowly reclaiming the territory. The cops are bored and the locals, even more-so. But the expanding valley, stretching out to the north, still provides some of the most glorious sunsets a human being can witness.

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February 28, 2017 – Desert Rot

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One of the things that photography, and the volumes of underlying science, have taught me is that there is an aesthetic beauty implicit in the process of decay. When the veneer is stripped away, and as common objects are vulnerable, new textures surface. When we peel back the skin, we see new things – and we usually spend most of our waking lives trying not to see what’s beneath the surface.

Gray’s Anatomy. Diagrams of dissected bodies. Scars and scratches on once-pristine buildings, automobiles, billboards. We close our eyes in most cases, turn our heads, and ignore the viscera. I’m rather attracted to it.

Here’s my proof.

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January 14, 2017 – The Hilltop Cross

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Today I stumbled across an old photo, taken during the first few months I had lived in Bisbee, Arizona. It’s a mile-high historic town where one of the largest copper mining operations in the world existed. On a, 80 story hilltop overlooking the canyons the comprise most of the town is a makeshift shrine, evidently constructed by a single individual, who hauled mortar and supplies up the trail to the top of the hill, one small load at a time.

The folks that live in town have added to the shrine their own little flourishes. Candles, prayer flags, and sculptures have slowly accumulated, and the cross at the top of the hill kind of belongs to the whole community now. Even in the tumult of my last few months in Bisbee, with a flagging relationship and commensurate flagging reputation among some hostile locals, I always found peace hiking up into the hills to look at the view and be alone with my thoughts.

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January 06, 2017 – The Landscape

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After living in Kansas City for over a year, it feels so good being back in the desert, where I belong. There’s nothing like an Arizona sunrise. At every hour, there are wonderful things to photograph, mountains to hike, winding roads to drive down. This, to me, is paradise.

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February 15 – The Flamingo

02-16 Flamingo post1The Flamingo was originally built in 1948, providing comfort and shelter for the likes of Bing Crosby, Gene Autrey, Rudy Valley, and other members of the Hollywood and show-business elite. Before it’s doors were closed in the 1980s, it had fallen into miserable disrepair. The rooms were poorly lit, the pool was dry and cracked. The old-world gloss had given way to broken concrete and mold.

When the doors were locked and the windows boarded up, shrink-wrapped soaps still sat in their dishes, dusty towels still hung on the racks, the beds still tightly made. It only sat vacant for seven years before the padlocks were snapped open and the hotel was resurrected with new furniture, carpets, air conditioning, and placards on the doors to designate which Tinseltown stars had stayed there.

I had the pleasure of staying in Burt Reynold’s room. Above the bed was a framed poster of a 1973 Reynolds feature I had never even heard of before: The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. I still haven’t seen it, but I think I might have to check it out and add a movie review.

The Flamingo was the first Tucson hotel I stayed at – it’s salmon colored paint drawing me in – back in the Spring of 2001. I’d taken a road trip out to Tucson with my girlfriend to check out the city, seeing as how I had just received my acceptance letter from the U of A. Thankfully the new owner respected the building’s history – rather than tear down the classic sign, it was resurfaced and adorned with new neon tubes.

Hopefully, even as the city around it modernizes, The Flamingo will hold onto its charm. The neighborhood isn’t the prime real estate it once was, but affordable rooms in a college town will always find occupants. It isn’t fancy by today’s standards, but I’ll never forget how good that hot shower felt after camping on Mount Lemon for several days.

Today’s photograph is a continuation of “Film February,” made using the Fujica Half. I think the aged aesthetic of film works quite well with a classic mid-century building.

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