Todd Hido: Standing outside looking in

The American photographer Todd Hido, exhibiting at Copenhagen Photo Festival, is going against the trend of constructed and digitally manipulated imagery, which is often shown. He prefers to shoot what he finds.

“I never stage my photographs of the houses at night, I’m often asked, if I do. But I prefer to take pictures of what I find”, explains Todd Hido, photographer at the Copenhagen Photo Festival, about his work.

He is one of the participants of the Day & Night exhibition at the festival. His work is being projected at buildings, in different parts of Copenhagen, during the evening and nighttime. His work is naturally connected to this time of the day, since he always shoots his portraits of homes at night.

“It often looks like dusk, but the images are made, when it is dark, after the street lights come on. I usually start by going to an area and literally driving around for hours. On most nights I’m out for 5-6 hours, and if I stop to make a few exposures, I feel as though, I have had a good night. It is hard to find just the right place to shoot. 99% of the time it is a certain light on in a home, which gets my attention. But there are other considerations too, such as whether there are parked cars blocking the scene or issues of my safety standing out on the street”, says Hido about his working method and finding just the right spot.

Between documentary and poetry

The available light, which is very limited, since Hido shoots at nighttime, is the only light he uses. That makes the exposures rather long. It ranges from 6-10 minutes Todd Hido tells. So he is certainly not working within the famous field of “the decisive moment”, as Cartier-Bresson did documenting Parisian sceneries in the beginning of the twentieth century.

Todd Hido’s photos, which show lonely houses often with a light on in one of the windows, work within a blurred field of documentary and poetry.

“I shoot like a documentary, but I print like a painter. I shoot very straight, but when I‘m in the darkroom is when a lot of the aesthetics of my work comes out. I’m not tied to reality in there, just feeling I guess. When I print the pictures they really change, often they look nothing like the initial contact sheet. The camera sees more than I do. It has taken years to be able to look at a contact sheet and pick out an image, which can become something, although it might look just all right on the proof. I’m looking at formal issues. Although I never construct the scene, I do give myself completely liberty to adjust the colors, when I’m printing. My process would never work, if I didn’t print my own photographs”, says Todd Hido.

Domestic portraits

Todd Hido tells, that he as an artist never felt his task is to create meaning, but only to charge the air, so that meaning can occur.

“With my images of homes I’m interested in portraying some kind of domestic narrative. ‘Standing outside looking in… the lights come on and the inside seeps to the outside”… That is something I often say, when I’m talking about my work. And it is certainly open for interpretation, I feel the meaning can often reside in the viewer. To me, it often seems as if a one-act play unfolds in the house, as I make my exposure. Lights get turned on and off, I can hear the TV blaring or sometimes bits of a conversation. Many people have told me their experiences of looking at my work, is the feeling that a certain house have been his or her house, or a street they remember on their drive to school. I prefer my photos should be a vehicle for memories or fragments of a narrative, not a complete story with all of the parts already cast”, Todd Hido finishes.