Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Loneliness of Todd Hido

At a gallery talk last year Todd Hido paused a moment to comment on his photograph of house whose upstairs and downstairs windows emit an eerie blue light. “That’s the glow from TVs. Two TVs. I love that, when I find it. It doesn’t happen often.”

The average household in the United States owns 2.4 televisions and watches them 6.76 hours a day. It’s surprising that in his wanderings Hido hasn’t come across more houses with people watching televisions in different rooms. His love for the two-television house isn’t. Separation, isolation, and loneliness are characteristic of all Hido’s work.

Hido covered some personal history during his gallery talk. He didn’t, that I recall, mention Robert Adams, an obvious precursor to Hido’s landscapes and urban photographs. In Denver, Adams’ 1977 monograph of tract housing, industrial areas, and other inhabited landscapes, the solitary house is prevalent. Adams was influenced by the great painter of solitary houses, Edward Hopper. Unlike Adams or Hopper, Hido has no interest in the power of light to transform the ordinary into something transcendent. One feels that Hido’s internally illuminated houses lead the way down rather than up. They belong to the world of Poe rather than Thoreau.

Roamings, obviously not as dark as Hido’s nighttime photographs of houses, continues to portray the West as an isolating, muted and often weird landscape. Hido likes to shoot through his car window, a kind of veil between us and the land. The absence of people adds to the feeling of isolation. If we were able to step out of the car, we’d find ourselves in uninhabited territory; there may be houses, but they’ve been abandoned.

In Hido’s latest work, a portrait series, women look directly at the camera with intense ennui, as if the photographer had unsuccessfully attempted an intervention. The photographic portrait of disengagement, perhaps first raised to an art by Rineke Dijkstra, is now so pervasive that one wonders why Hido bothered. Though of a piece with his previous body of work, they add little to it.

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