Mark Hansen – The Man Behind the Lens
By Veronica Klingel and Harrison Orwig, SMB Student Media Team
While the members of the SMB put in hours upon hours of hard work to ensure our band continues its tradition of excellence, the scope of our organization goes far beyond the students that perform each Saturday. SMB personnel work tirelessly behind the scenes to support the band. One of these individuals is Mark Hansen, the SMB photographer. His photos offer fans a new perspective of the gameday traditions that have grown so familiar to our audience.
Hansen has had a connection to Michigan State University from the very beginning of his life. Born in Alpena, he grew up on a dairy and beef farm run by his MSU graduate father. As a young man, he got involved with music as a member of the Alpena High School Wildcat Marching and Symphony Bands. After graduating in 1971, Hansen embarked on a career in banking, before later returning to his education at Washtenaw Community College with a primary focus in photography.
In 2001, Hansen’s daughter, Liesl, joined the Spartan Marching Band as a member of the mellophone section. As his family became more involved with the SMB through his daughter’s participation, Hansen found that the marchers’ efforts were going largely undocumented and began to try and capture it on his own. “I noticed a shortage of pictures covering the hard work this group puts into their entire season,” Hansen said, “So, my hope was to improve that.” After spending a few seasons photographing the SMB from the sidelines, Mark Hansen was officially brought on to the SMB staff. His first “on the field” shooting experience in Spartan Stadium was the September 18th, 2004, game against the Fighting Irish from Notre Dame.
An average gameday for Hansen starts at 8:30AM when he leaves his Ann Arbor home to make the drive to East Lansing. From the moment he arrives until every light has gone dark in Spartan Stadium, Hansen is by the SMB’s side. He photographs the band’s performances at Adams Field, their march to Spartan Stadium, pregame, halftime, and postgame. When all is said and done, Hansen takes between three and four thousand photographs each gameday. Once he arrives home, he selects the top forty photos from each game to create a “gameday reflection” for his photography website. This work often takes upwards of twelve hours, but Hansen doesn’t mind. “They are long days but special in so many ways.”
When asked about his favorite memory as the SMB’s photographer, Hansen immediately brought up MSU’s 2013 trip to the Rose Bowl. “I have so many great memories but the very top one would be the 100th Rose Bowl following our ‘great’ 2013 season. Getting the picture of the Spartan Marching Band crossing the 100th Rose Bowl insignia from the Rose Bowl Press Box was a proud moment along with being with the band and on the field after the big win!” In 2016, Hansen became an honorary member of the Spartan Marching Band and was gifted his own SMB Band Jacket. “[It was] another major highlight and a jacket I proudly wear.”
Over the course of his seventeen-year career as the SMB photographer, Mark has shot 107 games at Spartan Stadium and 19 games at other venues. In 2006, his late wife, Janet Rutt, joined him in taking pictures from the Spartan Stadium Photo Deck, and the two of them shot together until October of 2015. The pair had a tradition of enjoying a meal at Applebee’s before making the drive back home. “Years of taking pictures with my late wife has many special moments…I could go on and on.”
“Without question 16 years of being with the Spartan Marching Band has changed my life. The leadership, families, [and] students I have met form all sorts of treasured memories. After a few seasons I see more and more in the Spartan Alumni Band, as well as along the streets. I celebrate the times I have seen returning students, some with families now, cheering on ‘their Spartans’… Having what I call ‘the best seat in the house’ has given me many ‘chills’ as I have heard the talented SMB surround us all with great music.”
We are extremely privileged to have Mark Hansen as a member of our SMB family, and we hope to continue working with him for many years to come.
Hansen’s work is available at markhansenphotography.smugmug.com.