Internationally acclaimed photographer Todd Hido has made a name for himself capturing unsettling images of the suburban landscape. Spark joins the artist at work as he cruises one of his favorite Bay Area neighborhoods in search of the perfect shot. Hido looks for the anonymous, even mysterious aspects of American life, recording buildings and landscapes eerily absent of human presence.
At the center of Hido’s work is a certain degree of realism. He uses only available light and does not move objects when composing his images. Hido shoots his signature residential landscapes at night using long exposure times and employing the ambient atmosphere that surrounds his subjects. His minimalist, moody images, set in architecturally homogenous settings, suggest sinister narratives.
Hido’s technique of using long exposure times presents particular challenges. When photographing a house or landscape, any temporary change in light affects the picture. The headlights of a car driving by can create the desirable effect of brightening the image, whereas the lights of a plane flying overhead can create an unwanted streak across the sky.
For his latest book, Hido is taking a different approach to pursuing the themes of isolation and loneliness evident in his earlier work. Spark travels with the photographer to a hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, where he is working with a model to create a series of portraits. For Hido, old hotels provide an exciting range of possibilities. Details like old fixtures and furniture can be rife with suggested stories and associations when captured in the just the right way. He still uses only natural light, although he may use curtains to alter or block light.
Lately, Hido has been using a vintage 126 camera that his wife found in a thrift shop. He first used the camera to help his models relax before he would begin shooting with his professional equipment, but soon he noticed that the vintage camera’s flash created an amateurish snapshot look. Hido found this aesthetic appealing, so he decided to use the camera in his work.
For Hido, editing and sequencing his images for publication adds meaning to them. The photographer considers his books to be like paper movies – arrangements of images that suggest loose narratives. Scenes are sometimes tied together through formal criteria, such as light, composition or a particular tonal palette, and sometimes through stories and characters that seem to inhabit the images themselves.
Todd Hido earned a B.F.A. from Tufts University in 1991 and an M.F.A. in photography from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1996. His work has been shown in galleries and museums across the United States and in the United Kingdom. Hido’s photographs can be found in many prominent collections, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He has published four books, “Roaming” (2005), “House Hunting” (2001), “Outskirts” (2002) and “Taft Street” (2001). Hido is represented by the Stephen Wirtz Gallery of San Francisco.