Bay Area photographer
Todd Hido suggests the presence of absence in his color-saturated photographs
of houses and apartments. He photographs the exteriors of urban and
suburban lower- and middle-class houses and unlovable apartments, and
the interiors of these dwellings which have been abruptly evacuated.
The photographs are taken at night, layering complex meaning around
the images. Nocturnal imagery resonates within film, literature, and
music, complicating an easy or shallow reading of Hido's photographs.
The photographs of the exteriors of these houses, most with lights glowing
from within, suggest an unseen presence. By imaging these homes shrouded
in fog or packed in with snow, Hido suggests a nuanced ghostly presence
rather than, say, an easy critique of economic downturn or social disorder.
Instead, he tenders a gentle reminder of the frailty of the physical
and ideological structures in which we shelter ourselves. The unpeopled
interior photographs of repossessed homes - suggesting the eviction,
evacuation, or abandonment of the renters or owners - imply even further
the fragility of the human condition. In Hido's photographs, a rumpled
bed, frozen snowprint, and abandoned vehicle all impart the pathos of
the absent body and the visible traces it leaves.
Untitled #1447A, an intimate photograph of a disheveled bed and
bare pillow, suggests the fraught psychological, emotional, and sexual
space of interiority. By showing us such a highly charged scene, and one
so unnervingly closely cropped, Hido suggests the vulnerability of personal,
interior spaces. Hido understands the power in absence. The suggestion
of bodies that may have just vacated the bed in this quiet and even disturbing
image implies a loss. Paradoxically, the photograph's stasis suggests
the physical movement that the bed embraced. The rumpled sheets and indented
pillow impart the recent warmth of human bodies. The caseless pillow may
be a reminder of the fleeting idea of permanence in an often unsafe and
unstable society. The only movement in the photograph is the white cord
that wavers off of the nightstand and disappears into the shadows of the
quiet room, manipulating the photograph's balance. Its disappearance into
shadow mimics the loneliness of the scene, embodies its dispossessed and
abandoned fragmentation. This is a photograph of dusky ache.
Untitled #2844 typifies Hido's understated photographic restraint.
The dingy cement-block house is packed in with snow. Restless footprints
crisscross the snow, perhaps leading to and away from the small house,
or avoiding it altogether. These footprints create an almost frenzied
activity by comparison with Hido's other, more staid images. In contrast
to the shabbiness of the cinderblock house, the tidy home in Untitled
#2421 presents a pristine scene behind a neatly plowed street. There
is an overt aura of middle-class success - note the landscaped yard with
mature trees - which, by comparison, sharpens the fraught tension of the
cinderblock house devoid of trees and landscaping, with nothing but power
lines punctuating the stark night. But we know that in an unsteady economy
financial loss and failure can happen anywhere - a business that seemed
invincible crumbles to nothingness as fortunes, modest and immense are
irretrievably lost - and Hido's homes, no matter what their facade, are
equalized by loss.
What other narratives are suggested by these poetic but somber nocturnal
images? Hido understands that by photographing the houses at night, he
propels them into a particularly poignant and charged space. Night urges
the viewer to a different understanding of the subject. The uncanny glow
of the streetlights that barely illuminate the street may suggest the
possibility of something unwholesome. The fact that Hido often photographs
abandoned houses implies further anxiety and instability. In Untitled
#2419 an old truck is backlit on a dark street next to a ramshackle
fence. It indicates a human presence, but a ghostly and ephemeral one,
as if the truck has been urgently and recently discarded in this foreboding
neighborhood. The light coming from behind the truck suggests the headlights
of an oncoming vehicle, perhaps a hopeful sign in an otherwise uncertain
night. Everything in the photograph suggests civic decay, poverty, and
unwantedness in another abandoned place; to walk down the uneven sidewalk
may be dangerous.
Hido's photographs embody seemingly opposite ideas and places such as
inside and out, presence and absence, private and public, darkness and
light. The darkness surrounding a house heightens the effect of the
light radiating from within the house. The distance from which Hido
photographs the house charges the scene with either loneliness or confrontation.
The unpeopled landscape around the house is underlined by the interior
light, and the private interiority of the home spills out into the night.
Nocturnal photography has a relatively long and discursive history. As
early as 1847 a St. Louis photographer recorded lightning on a daguerreotype
plate. However, as a photographic practice it didn't take root until about
the 1890s. By the late 19th and early 20th century, photographers such
as Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz found particular interest in the
nighttime city as subject, expanding the domain of nocturnal photography
to embrace conceptual ideologies. (1) More than a century later, Todd
Hido's nocturnal investigations of the places in which people live and
from which they leave through various social, psychological, and economic
circumstances, participate in and expand upon the ongoing photographic
dialogue of the physical and psychological effects of night.