March 2, 2017 by Ray Yanek
A long time ago, I had a student named Mark Hallowell. He was a stocky kid, big in the shoulders, dark haired, and he had this calm, easy-going demeanor about him. I remember too that, every now and then, I would catch this fleeting glint in his eye, a glimmer of a child that still lived deep inside of him.
He wore an earring also, a silver silhouette of Michael Jordan stretching out to dunk a basketball. I don’t remember the exact year I had him in class, but I do know it was a long time after those Bulls teams put the rings in their cases.
The last time I saw a picture of Mark on Facebook, he looked exactly like I feel he was meant to look: still big in the shoulders, his head shaved now. He wears a full, heavy black beard and in the summer he tools around on a Harley.
I don’t know if he still wears the Michael Jordan earring.
After high school, Mark enlisted in the military and was shipped off to Afghanistan to man a gunner spot in a Humvee. I’d like to take a minute here to tell him thank you for that– to thank him for his service and sacrifice, for the dark days and long nights he must have endured.
And I want to thank him for bringing home that camera that he used to take pictures from that gunner spot, which would ultimately lead him to bigger and better cameras.
These pictures that have dotted the post? They’re Mark’s.
And they are breathtaking.
What’s even more inspiring is that they were taken here in our home town, that Small Town U.S.A I wrote about last Tuesday.
“I really just like seeing people’s faces light up when they see one of my pictures,” Mark told me. “They always seem to have that, like, ‘Wow! I want to go there!’ response. That’s what’s inspired me to do better, especially when I take pictures of Streator (our hometown). It’s nice to see a different side of Streator that most people don’t take the time to appreciate.”
Now again, look at he majesty and wonder he’s captured in digital. Familiar, simple, ordinary things have gone into his cameras and onto a computer where Mark has been able to strengthen the colors and bring out the contrasts. He’s emphasized tiny things in the landscape that we would normally take for granted. And in the process, he’s made these familiar places new, remarkable.
This reminds me– at a time when I’ve been reflecting on my writing and thinking about my own artistic development–that good writing should do the same. Good writing, my writing, should instill that same sense of wonder and awe and magnificence in the reader as these photos have instilled in me. These thoughts have always been there I suppose, but I needed Mark to take them and edit them a bit. I needed him to draw out the contrasts, to emphasis the things I take for granted, and to help me look at the seemingly mundane things around me with fresh eyes. There’s magic in the mundane, I hear Mark say in these pictures. Go find it.
Thanks Mark, for that reminder and for sharing these photos.
Mark uses a Sony A7 camera and edits with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
To see more of Mark’s work, visit his Instagram page here.