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Todd Hido @ Casemore Kirkeby

Given a show as cohesive and absorbing as Todd Hido’s Selections from a Survey, one has to wonder about the deceptively ad hoc and unnecessarily dry title. Granted, the words “selections” and “survey” hint at the diversity of subjects and approaches as well as the careful curation. However, it gives short shrift to an exhibition that is coherent, evocative and mysterious. With images hung cheek-to-jowl, the show forms a densely connected quasi-narrative rebus. Hido’s subjects include emerald street signs, vacant roads, a young woman hitchhiking, as well as his signature shots of blandly familiar suburban houses. They indicate an almost Lynchian obsession with suburban Americana for both its banality and dark undercurrents. As with David Lynch’s films, these works take place in an ambiguously defined past that seems specific but refers to multiple decades.

The lead in Hido’s implied narrative is a model and actress named Khrystyna Kazakova with whom he has collaborated with over the years. A versatile performer with a chameleon-like ability to transform into several different women, it’s clear why this relationship has continued. Most interestingly, she appears here in 60’s period garb as a hitchhiker. Untitled #10574-a, for instance, is taken from the driver’s-seat perspective, as if Hido had positioned himself as an off-camera character.  Kazakova leans in on the passenger side as if to cajole a ride and perhaps something more.  The setup recalls something Diane Arbus said: “In movies we always surrender to the fiction being presented; in photographs we always see the photo as a relationship between the subject and the photographer.”  All of Hido’s photos, but especially those with Kazakova, assert this dynamic: We are drawn into a fictional world but also reminded that this world is constructed – by Hido and by his subject — in intimate situations. Although these pictures obviously recall Cindy Sherman’s work, especially the famous Untitled Film Stills, Hido’s are a bit broader and therefore easier to place — perhaps a mild flaw.


Other foreboding scenes and vignettes hint at where this story might be heading. These include a vacant country road, a seedy motel, and a crashed car from the 40’s that could have come straight out of Weegee photo.  In Untitled #9248-a, an old telephone sits on the floor ominously with the receiver off the hook.  In one of the more overt juxtapositions, we see, in three adjacent photos, a well-worn black-and-white rephotograph (Untitled #10955-barry-hido-football) of a high school football player who happens to be Hido’s father; a mangled automobile (Untitled #9185-fd); and the words “The End” taken from a film (Untitled #1107-the-end). This sequence appears near images of the aforementioned motel, a hitchhiker, and a rumpled unmade bed – imploring us to connect the dots. The impressive range of formal congruencies, implied narratives, and art history references in these photos give viewers a lot to ponder.

All of these works, including the re-photographed works, exhibit an incredible sensitivity and unique control of light, color and atmospheric effects.  His photos of suburban houses — mostly taken in nearby Daly City and Pacifica — are all subtly luminous in surprising painterly ways. They are also intensely evocative. Their combination of ubiquitous subject and specific atmosphere dare you to reach into memory to locate the precise scenes. They recall places we’ve visited, but also evoke those places at precise time of day, temperature and humidity level.
Even the hint of narrative gives one a tinge of déjà vu, as in Untitled #2027-b, where a hazy dusk contrasts with the warm glow emanating from the house. It suggests the existence of off-camera subjects (inside and


outside of the house) and a story of their disconnection. It’s no accident that this scene of mundane alienation was used as the cover of a recent paperback edition of Raymond Carver stories.

Their painterly quality also suggests an intimate knowledge of art history and provokes unexpected associations. Untitled #11385-1746, a picture of a vacant country road, for instance, recalls the murky portentousness of paintings by Albert Pinkham Ryder. The aforementioned Untitled #2027-b contains more than a whiff of George Inness’s mellow golden light. Likewise, a photo of a white house amidst overcast grey skies features a blur effect and recalls, naturally, Gerhard Richter. In fact, there is more art history referenced, suggested, or evoked here than is even possible to list exhaustively.
There is also one video, Untitled Video #1, which was taken through the windshield of a car driving down a suburban street in the rain. The rain-dappled windshield and stately pace calls to mind any number of driving moments. The scene is Warholian in its mundanity and deadpan execution but more suburban and middle-class than Warhol himself would allow. When the car comes to a halt at a stop sign, a subtle, yet definite, shift occurs as the picturesque effect unexpectedly gives way to documentary reality. This is strangely unsettling. And yet the familiarity of the moment is so drab and melancholy that it is veritably shocking to be thrust, quite abruptly, into it.
Todd Hido: “Selections from a Survey” at Casemore Kirkeby through August 15, 2015. 
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.


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