Back to Writing / 3-07-2006

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The images that emerge from the camera of San Francisco photographer Aaron Hawks offer more than just glamour, beauty or eroticism. They traverse the barrier between artist and viewer to pierce us with loneliness, haunt us with forgotten nightmares, and melt away all constructs of reality. Within his fabricated sets of broken furniture and peeling wallpaper, the model and photographer achieve a comfort level that allows them to transcend traditional vision or being; we instead enter a seductively dark dimension that somehow seems to be more honest.

Sez G: There's something very quiet yet haunting in many of your models' eyes. How do you get this look on film…is it something that comes naturally to them when placed in your set? Or is it a fleeting moment that you skillfully coax and capture?

Aaron Hawks: It's a look I see in everyone's eyes all the time. History in the eyes of people has always been my focus. 'We can all relate to it on one level or another. Seeing it in someone as beautiful as the women I photograph calms me, rather than seeing it, for an extreme example, in the homeless.

Sez G: There's also a quiet, dark sadness in your "Places" series…crooked lines, gray lighting, small wet houses, slow decay. Tell me about the background of this work.

Aaron Hawks: It's sentimental... the layers of history we can't erase that give us a feeling of substance, and yet we slowly forget them over time. The texture of the environments reminds us of our first experience entering into the unknown and how rich it was.

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Sez G: Tell me about the motel rooms you do a lot of your shooting in. How staged and intentional are the settings?

Aaron Hawks: I construct each set, from the floor to the ceiling to the dirt to the light. Everything is fabricated. Nothing is real, everything is false. Everything never was until I put it there.

Sez G: All of your subjects are beautiful in a very non-traditional sense, including hairstyles and body modifications. Why do you think you're drawn to these subjects?

Aaron Hawks: These ladies are amazing icons of our time. Their beauty radiates, no matter what they look like or what I do to them. They are real people with real stories and real expression. I consider them art to be documented in a non-traditional sense.

Sez G: A lot of your photos have a pervasive sadness to me, but in some I felt a bit more of an active discomfort and…fear. How do you think you manage to capture such incredibly striking, disconcerting, beautiful images?

Aaron Hawks: It's all very organic. When a comfort level is reached, all sorts of things are revealed. Getting there is the work -- finding the connection that goes beyond the everyday. It takes a lot of trust, and it's both sadistic intentions and masochistic tendencies in myself and the subject. Once that is shared, then the images start to evolve past my control into something… I don't know… natural? Most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing!

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Sez G: I don't believe you! You've done a few spectacular shoots involving naked women balled up and suspended in netting. They look inhuman. Can you walk me through setting this up? How much shoot time do you get once they're suspended?

Aaron Hawks: Suspension is something hypnotic to me -- that control of weight. Flesh with tension applied through pressure relaxes me. The models have a vague idea of what they're walking into, but the images only show a fraction of what they experience. Safety is always my biggest concern. Always. Once that is taken care of, who knows what will happen. From the time they say they've had enough to them screaming at me to let them down is usually about two minutes.

Sez G: You've produced and directed two short films which will be on your site soon. What inspired you to creating moving images? How did the process compare with shooting still photos….frustrating, liberating?

Aaron Hawks: Shooting motion picture is one of the most magical experiences an image-maker can have. Unfortunately, it's nowhere near as easy as taking a picture if you want to do it right. I've spent years filming and working strictly on my films. The outcome is satisfying but harder to show. Financially it dwarfs photography, but shooting film is the best experience you can get to sharpen your skills as a photographer.

Sez G: How did you end up in San Francisco, and what's your studio warehouse like?

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Aaron Hawks: I fled from a criminal life that almost killed me to become a starving artist life that provides me with a safer outlet. I live in my studio that I call the bunker. It sits in the middle of a building and has minimal natural light. It's a great environment in which to fade away along with your fantasies.

Sez G: And to capture them for us! You're the featured artist this year at the SF Fetish Ball. Very cool! How did you hook up with them and how are you selecting what pieces you'll be showing?

Aaron Hawks: The model Ivy Red introduced me to Paige White, and that was that. As for choosing pics for the show, well I think I'm going to throw everything in the air and see what lands face up.

Sez G: Can't wait to check it out. What's next for you?

Aaron Hawks: Another cigarette, more constructing deconstruction, war photography. Who fuckin' knows?

To learn more about Aaron Hawks, visit

Aaron Hawks - by Sez G.