Todd Hido: Excerpts from Silver Meadows

Todd Hido, Untitled #9197, 2010

Todd Hido (MFA 1996, and currently a Photography faculty member) has built several remarkable and highly recognizable bodies of work over the two decades of his career thus far. He is best known for his night shots of suburban houses, desolate landscapes obscured by rain and snow, and uneasy, haunting portraits.

"Photographing people and places -- and putting them together to create narratives and suggest stories -- has consistently been my focus," says Hido. "It never ceases to amaze me what happens when you combine a portrait and a place. Your mind can't help filling in the gaps between them."

Hido's latest solo exhibition, Excerpts from Silver Meadows, is on view now through February 25 at Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco. Sequenced to form an almost cinematic narrative, its main "characters" are atmospheric, uninhabited wintertime landscapes and somewhat spooky portraits of beautiful, dramatic-looking women. Silver Meadows is a real place -- a suburban development that sprang up around 1970 on the outskirts of Kent, Ohio, where Hido grew up, which makes the development and the artist about the same age.

While shooting the pictures, he wandered around Silver Meadows and its adjacent areas deliberately, yet randomly, in search of scenes that would connect with his recollections. The exhibition presents both Hido's reckoning with his own past and a summation of the suburban childhood experience in general, in which communities are constructed from whole cloth, and "ticky tacky" homes, built similarly to convey stability, actually conceal lives seething with sexual and psychological instability. The pictures feel simultaneously familiar, yet imaginary and dreamlike, transcending any specific time and place.

Hido works only with film, not digital. His landscape work is made during long road trips in which he often shoots through the windshield of his car, essentially using the windshield as an additional lens. He frequently works during inclement weather, which produces a streaked, blurred visual effect as a veil to advance the mysterious and unsettling tone of the images. When he is in the Bay Area, he can be found shooting in Pacifica or out in the Sacramento River Delta, places that recall the flat and empty landscapes of his Midwestern origins. Lately he has also explored eastern Washington state. "I find the landscape there very much like the landscapes that I recall in my mind from 20 years ago. It doesn't have Walmarts and Home Depots in every town yet; it's actually quite amazing and wonderful. I just know that in some of the small towns I drive through, even though they're only an hour from an airport, many of the residents never leave their own little worlds. They are untouched places."

Anyone who knows Hido will tell you he rarely stops working. "I am constantly making images. In fact it's a problem, because I have so many things I want to print and bring to fruition, and I just can't do it all. The evening after I installed my current show at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery, I went to the darkroom and made 76 contact sheets of new images I shot over the holidays. I am working on printing that stuff right now. I find that it is best to just keep moving after you hang a show and not sit back and wait too long before you start producing images again."

Hido says he doesn't like to operate with specific themes or messages in mind, nor does he write artist statements to accompany his bodies of work. "I'm always amazed at how the meaning of an image really resides in the viewer. So I don't pass on any information that might lead the viewer to any kind of conclusion about the work. Ambiguity is one of the finest tools to use in making art."

In 2010 Hido published two books. A Road Divided, with Nazraeli Press, features landscape photographs taken on the outskirts of cities. Nymph Daughters, published by Super Labo, continues the narrative sequencing experiments that he first explored in graduate school at CCA, and which continue to inform all of his work. He started with two photos: a found studio portrait of a mother made in the 1950s, and a found archival newspaper photograph of the aftermath of an auto accident. He put the portrait at the front of the book and the car crash at the back, and then worked to narratively connect the two using his own archive of portraits, landscapes, and photographs of houses. In 2009, four of his luminous night photographs of suburban houses were featured on the covers of four Raymond Carver novels, which were being redesigned for the 25th anniversary of Vintage Contemporaries. Hido calls it one of the most important and significant things that his images have ever been used for. "It was a dream to contribute something to such an amazing author's body of published work."

Hido also currently has a show at Pier 24 in San Francisco (an exciting new exhibition space devoted specifically to photography that hosts rotating shows and houses the Pilara Foundation Collection). His one-room presentation consists of 45 of his nighttime photographs of houses. It is the largest installation to date of the project that actually started as his CCA MFA thesis back in 1996.

"One of my best experiences as a student at CCA was working with the late Larry Sultan in a course he taught with Lynn Marie Kirby called the Narrative Workshop. It was an undergraduate course, but a couple of other graduate students and I took it because it was simply not to be missed. There are things I learned in that class that I revisit literally every time I bring two pictures together. So, in other words, every day."

And Hido has never really left CCA since he got his MFA. "I was one of the very first photography graduate students to be allowed to team-teach a Photo One course. This was back in 1996 and I was very happy to have the opportunity. I have continued to teach on and off since then, usually leading advanced workshops, or advising graduate students. One of the main reasons I have kept myself around is because I very much enjoy the community that we have in the Photography Program. It's such a solid group of people, and we have many great speakers come in each semester for lectures."

Todd Hido has been featured in Artforum, the New York Times Magazine, Metropolis, Vanity Fair, and many other important publications. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His award-winning publications include House Hunting, Outskirts, Roaming, Between the Two, and most recently A Road Divided.