Posted on 22 October 2016.
Untitled #11382-1552, 2014, archival inkjet print, 38 x 57”
by Elwyn Palmerton
Todd Hido has said that one of his aims is to "photograph like a documentarian and print like a painter.” Intimate Distance, his first show at Casemore Kirkeby’s Minnesota Street Projects space, shows him doing just that. Each work has both a gritty, stark quality and a degree of quasi-painterly nuance — a control of light and color that is exceedingly rare in photography. The subjects here include his usual range of sundry Americana: female models in various states of undress, boxy apartment buildings, exurban landscapes and harshly lit emerald street signs against purplish dusk light.
These kinds of alienating and noir-ish scenes inevitably call to mind David Lynch; however, Edward Hopper might be a more relevant point of reference. Hido is less concerned with the perverse
Untitled #8227-A, 2009, archival inkjet print, 38 x 38"
darkness lurking beneath cheery surfaces than he is with the ordinary loneliness that banal settings convey. Like Hopper, his work emphasizes what the treatment of light says about the subject.
Untitled #11171-6868 (2013), one of the more striking images, shows the exterior of a motel, foregrounded by a snowy/slushy parking lot. The windshield is therefore invisible and yet its haphazard distortions are not. In effect, this foregrounds the phenomenological condition of photography and seeing, generally: We don’t see objects in themselves; we see light that’s reflected off of them, as transformed and altered through a number of filters, steps and processes. This sense of seeing light as a conditional and ongoing state of transformation — as the essence of vision rather than as an attribute of objects — permeates his work.
That same sense of indeterminacy can be found in the way he captures human emotion and suggests narratives. His mostly female models inhabit what appear to be transitional states — possibly between moments of turmoil. Like light, emotions in Hido’s photographs are always in transit, on their way from being one thing to another. Untitled #11382-1552 (2014), for instance,
Untitled #9270-A, 2010, archival inkjet print, 20 x 20”
shows a woman on a bed propped up on her elbows. Her face fills the left side of the frame while the rest of her body is dramatically foreshortened and out of focus. It’s a boudoir photo but without erotic content. Her lips are parted, her eyes cast down toward the side, suggesting a “close” moment with a lover whose mind is somewhere else. As the title of the show implies, closeness doesn’t always mean intimacy.
In, Untitled #10504-9(2011) something similar occurs. The subject — Khrystyna Kazakova, a model and actress who has appeared in many of Hido’s works over the years — sits in the driver’s seat of a vintage 50’s automobile. The shot is taken through the open passenger-side window at an extremely low angle. The blue of the car and sky framing her face nearly match, becoming parallel, abstract planes. Her expression is one of either apprehension or anticipation. The obvious question is: Why are we (and the photographer) viewing this scene from the ground? It’s play-acting – this much we know — but if so, what’s the script? The mystery goes unsolved.
A second gallery, filled with large black-and-white photos from the early 90s, indicates that these leanings have been present in Hido’s work for a while. In Untitled #31 (1991) an anonymous
Untitled #11171-6868, 2013, archival inkjet print, 38 x 57”
male figure in the distance stands by a pool. It is deadpan and existential, a bit surreal: a decisive moment delayed rather than captured, reminiscent, both in subject and tone, of the The Swimmer, a 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster.
Hido’s landscapes exhibit many of the same qualities. Untitled #11386-2266 (2014) shows a half-flattened fence seen at night from what appears to be a moving car. Like Proust’s Madeleine, this fugitive image – an apparitional slow-shutter blur of wind-blown trees and swirling dust — portends something far more significant than what the camera sees. A drab, grainy blown-out shot of an overturned tricycle, Untitled #7900-A (2008), offers a counterpoint: a
Untitled #11360-SNOWMANPOLA, 2014, archival inkjet print, 11 x 14”
once-valued possession lost or abandoned, perhaps irrevocably so.
Hido’s re-photography– i.e. photos of other photos — echoes this sense of dereliction. Untitled #11360- SNOWMANPOLA (2014), of a Polaroid depicting a snowman flanked by two kids, exhibits the craquelure of an Old Master painting. Darkness, a likely byproduct of the re-photography process, shrouds the figures. This side of Hido’s work may seem tangential to his overall practice, but it also epitomizes his work. Like his portraits and landscapes, these, too, are banal and creepy, redolent of art history, tenebrously lit, and all irrevocably linked to the process of photographic seeing and printing, which in Hido’s hands becomes “painting” on film.
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About the Author:
Elwyn Palmerton is an Oakland-based artist dealing in obsessive and improvisational abstract paintings. A New Jersey native, he received a B.A. from New York University and an M.F.A. from The School of Visual Arts. Since graduating he has exhibited regularly in New York City and Oakland. His writing has appeared in Frieze, Art Ltd., Artillery, Sculpture and Art Review.