As a child, scanning through slides and photographs his father had taken, Charles Hahn found one in particular that stood out. It was a photograph of their family dog. It was not an ordinary photograph, as it seemed to capture the uniqueness and personality of their pet. From that early experience, he discovered the difference between an ordinary snapshot and a photograph, and he was hooked from that point on.
During his high school years, Hahn spent multiple hours in the darkroom at school. Additionally, his parents gave him permission to turn one of their bathrooms and the basement into darkrooms. It was during these early years that he cut his teeth on black and white film developing and processing.
In the summer of 1975, this young photographer set out to document Chippewa Street, a seamy street in Buffalo, NY, for a high school art project. He photographed what would become the most iconic visual representation of the Chippewa Street area at that time.
This unsavory, crime-ridden part of the city was an area of society’s undesirables, homeless, and street people, each with a story to tell. Hahn’s school, due to the overall nature of the area, first turned him down fearing for his personal safety. However, with some coaxing and the help of Lynn Hebert, his photography instructor, the school finally approved the project, and Hahn set out to capture the life of Chippewa Street.
He did not know at that time that his work would result in a journalistic photography essay of a world that years later would cease to exist. These photographs, all shot in black and white with Kodak Tri-X and Plus-X Pan film, now also serve a historical value as this area of Buffalo has completely transformed due to the renaissance of the city. At the time that Hahn captured street life on Chippewa Street, the area was deemed Buffalo’s unofficial “red light” district, which was occupied by taverns, topless clubs, cheap hotels, and a pornography shop.
This first foray into street photography would also be the predecessor of a project that would bring Hahn full circle in his art. In 2016, after a very successful showing of his Chippewa photo essay in Buffalo, NY, Hahn embarked on a new project in his current hometown of Winston-Salem that was reminiscent of his photographs of Chippewa Street. The people and places were different, but the storytelling that Hahn’s lens presented was eerily similar. He set out to document the stories of people who are usually overlooked: the homeless.
Hahn notes, “The subjects in my photos are always more important than the overall photograph itself. There’s an attraction I have to a person’s imperfections that stand out for me when I find a subject.”
Typically a photographer finds a need to photograph something beautiful such as a landscape or a pretty model. For Hahn’s project, however, he recognized he had a need to break down certain barriers and get out of his comfort zone. He decided to meet and communicate with people who normally are considered insignificant; he wanted to show raw emotion from those disconnected from society. In an attempt to show their side of the story, the photographs are a realistic documentation of those often unseen or overlooked. Each photograph invites the viewer to seek answers to questions they normally don’t ask.
As Hahn befriended his subjects, he learned their history – where they had been and what they hoped for – and his photographs attempt to be not only a visual representation but also a historical narrative though a visual chronicle that comes through unexpectedly; these are not snapshots or even simple photographs. Hahn has managed to capture a day in the life that few people ever see. When others turn away, Hahn zooms in.
Charles Hahn grew up in Buffalo, NY, and he currently resides in Winston-Salem, NC. Combining his love of fine art with his passion for street photography, sports, landscapes, nature, and portrait photography, Hahn creates unforgettable photographic images: people, places, and moments in time.