Portrait of an Artist: Todd Hido

Todd Hido is a photographer who animates the mundane spaces that we encounter every day. These landscapes range from foreclosed suburban homes to bare roadways to urban apartment buildings. His most recent photographs were featured at an exhibition called “Fragmented Narratives” in the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in New York City early last year. The photographs from “Fragmented Narratives,” along with some of his other works, will be published later this year in a book called “Excerpts From Silver Meadows.” His art is also featured on the cover of the Silversun Pickups’ new album, “Neck of the Woods.”

The Harvard Crimson: How did you get involved with photography in the first place?

Todd Hido: I first got started doing photography when I was in high school. I used to race BMX bicycles, and I used to take pictures of my friends jumping ramps and stuff. It was actually something a lot of kids paid…other kids to do, so that’s how I got started in it. At the same time, I had a really great high school photography teacher, a man named Michael McClure. He noticed that I wasn’t a typical high school photography student. He…spotted that talent and encouraged me to do it.

THC: You recently had an exhibition called “Fragmented Narratives.” Could you tell me a little bit more about the works exhibited there?

TH: My work has always had a sort of cinematic quality to it. I worked on exchanging [both people and faces] to create a story of my work. Basically, it will turn into a book that’s going to come out November this year; it’s going to be called “Excerpts from Silver Meadows.” It is really inspired by where I grew up, which was Kent, Ohio. I think I have always hinted at stories of my childhood, but in this work, it goes to another level. It not only incorporates my own narrative of memory, but it also encapsulates other people’s.

THC: One of the major themes of your oeuvre is suburban homes. What is so special about them?

TH: Things I choose to photograph are almost all places that remind me of where I grew up—it almost always comes up to that. I have done a lot of work in the neighborhood that I actually grew up in, but I eventually ran out of space to photograph. I travel a lot. Whenever I go to a new place, I try to drag around and sort of search for inspiring things.

THC: Most of your photographs do not feature human figures. Where do the portrait photographs situate themselves in relation to the rest of your work?

TH: In the show at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery and also in “Excerpts from Silver Meadows,” people are totally integrated into the scene, and then there’s a narrative woven together that has to do with characters. In a lot of ways—just like I mentioned—I’ll go and find something that reminds me of home. People that I work with, they often come to me…[and] things magically come together. It’s all really related in a way. Sometimes you find something that really resonates for you.

THC: I have noticed that the titles of your works are always numbers. Does this signify anything?

TH: They are all numbers because the number-one thing I hear from people about my photographs…is ‘Oh, that really reminds me of a neighborhood I grew up in.’ I think that this is really important…having people connect to your work in a personal manner. My work is largely based on emotional things. I put feelings over concepts for sure. The emotional content of the work is more important than the contextual content of the work. I am really interested in people connecting to my work. That’s where the titles come in. I don’t want to say: ‘Oh, that is Kent, Ohio,’ or ‘Oh, that is Hamilton, Montana.’ Titles limit the construction of an artwork; titles are sort of an end in artwork. It should lead the viewer down the path or knock them from going down the path.

THC: Also, I learned that your photograph will be featured as the cover of the upcoming Silversun Pickups album, “Neck of the Woods.” How did this happen?

TH: It’s funny how it has come about. They live in California, and [bassist Nikki Monninger’s] boyfriend is a shrewd photography book collector. She’s very in tune with that, too. They knew of my work, and they liked it a lot, and then they approached me with the interest of having my picture on the cover. I met with them, we talked, and did that. I like their music; I think that it’s really good music.

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