Thursday, April 26, 2007

Todd Hido's Between The Two

Todd Hido came to my attention after his first book House Hunting (Nazraeli Press) was published in 2001. This beautifully made oversized book of houses and suburban neighborhoods photographed at night contains only 26 photographs and it passes through your hands without overstaying its welcome. I found it to be a kind of perfect little, big book.

The pictures describe both the interior and exterior worlds as something less than comforting. The “natural” artificial light and crisp detail of his large format camera make his frames look like hyper artificial scenes. We know this place is “real” but the quality of description belies that fact. The places are a little sinister and a little ordinary at the same time. His choosing to photograph on evenings or early mornings when the fog has rolled in provides an added seductive veil over the dwellings and streets.

The photographs in House Hunting do not simply fall into the tired old genre of night photography. The problem with most night photography is that the photographers get too seduced by the gimmick alone and fail to actually make pictures that transcend the technical process. Todd made photographs that were complete and meaningful first and the qualities of the technical is an added bonus.

Hido followed up with another good effort Outskirts (Nazraeli 2002). This book wasn’t vastly different than House Hunting and actually seemed more of a companion by following an identical design and tone of the content. He then published Roaming in 2004 also with Nazraeli Press.

Roaming was a slight departure except we are now “roaming” in more rural areas and viewing the landscape through rain smeared car windshields. The color palette of this title took a turn for the bland and bleak. Most of the book for me has an association to sitting in a cold car with damp shoes and socks. A bit miserable of an experience but the photographs can be beautiful.

Now, Nazraeli has published Hido’s fourth book Between the Two. This release is the largest yet with a whopping 35 images (his other books average about 25 images). The book opens with a familiar Todd Hido rainy streetscape made at night but this time (drum roll please) it’s in black and white. He follows this up with an interior black and white photograph of a room with a bleached blond woman sitting naked on the floor.

The book’s sequence follows the exterior photographs with interior images of rooms where women, most nude or scantily clad, lay about on beds or chairs. The women are “dressed” and made up to look suspiciously like call girls. There are only three of these portraits that do not look like they are self consciously leading the viewer to that conclusion. I’m pretty sure it isn’t just me.

He photographed them, for the most part, as if they are objects left behind. A similar tone is present in the interior photographs that appeared in the first two books. Being that they look like call girls, with the exception of a few, they look like they are the ones with the power over the situation. Their implied knowledge of carnality leaves us at a slight disadvantage.

The problem for me is that although populating his photographs may have been a natural, if not obvious, next step for Hido, he seems to have lacked the interest here to make images of these women that are equal to his other work. For me, there are only six of the twenty three images of women that are worthy of inclusion. They simply are weak photographs. Beyond that, I’m also not sold on the implied narrative that the sequencing attempts.

One may wonder about the interior life of the house. One aspect I liked in House Hunting and Outskirts was the houses and buildings are often illuminated from the inside as well as out. It makes the viewer realize that these structures are active in people’s lives. The problem here is that now that I have been given a glimpse to that interior life, it’s a disappointment. Not only in the form of the pictures but in the implied content. These evening or afternoon trysts do not engage me. With the exception of my edit of the six that think are worthy, I’m not interested in the interior lives of these women (the other interior Hido is obvious about stressing).

This book seems to be an attempt to force two bodies of work together. One body of work that we know already except this is just a weak edit of leftovers from his first two books and another body of work that are poorly made bland portraits that fit someone’s idea of a strong inner emotion.

I bought the book but I’m not buying any value in the work.