Enigmatic Landscapes

Enigmatic Landscapes

The cinematic images of American photographer Todd Hido (b. 1968) are both compelling and melancholy, drawing upon memories of vanished suburban neighbourhoods from a 1970s childhood – places which no longer exist in reality.

From blurred landscapes glimpsed through a car window to houses seen from the outside and mysterious female characters in motel rooms, the images appear like uncanny stills from an imagined film, implying a story unfolding out of sight. Each composition creates a sense of foreboding, engaging the viewer’s imagination to fill in the narrative context. This incursion of the strange into the everyday suggests a kinship with the surreal film explorations of David Lynch; Hido indeed lists Alfred Hitchcock amongst his influences.

Away from the hidden tales of urban and suburban life, the featured landscapes capture an unpopulated world of liminal nowhere places, again with the same cinematographic eye, as Hido drives through southern and western USA, often shooting through the rain and grime on the car windscreen as part of the composition, to create images of roads, empty fields, an infrastructure of telephone poles and railways spanning empty distances in the absence of humans.

The title of MBAL’s presentation, In the Vicinity of Narrative, picks up on these distinct qualities. Looking back across the artist’s career, which includes a prolific catalogue of more than a dozen photobooks, the exhibition unites several series, along with an examination of Hido’s working methods and, in doing so, offers its own partial linking narrative. The gallery highlights paths through this substantial body of work, which has featured in the likes of The New York Times Magazine, Artforum and Vanity Fair, and the permanent collections of the Getty, the Whitney Musem of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Smithsonian, amongst many others.

Currently based in San Francisco’s Bay Area, Hido last completed a monograph in 2013; Excerpts from Silver Meadows further develops the signature approach of combining portraits, landscapes, vintage photographs and documents in order to suggest a hidden narrative, which is glimpsed only cryptically. Silver Meadows was, incidentally, the name of the main street of the district where the artist grew up in Ohio, a place now vanished and replaced by strip malls.

The presentation of Hido’s work at MBAL runs alongside that of three other significant figures in or engaged with contemporary photography, creating a multi-layered dialogue. They are the legendary New York street photographer Garry Winogrand, represented by a series portraits celebrating the rise of feminism in the 1970s, France’s Thibault Brunet, who presents an almost virtual world in his photographs, albeit one clearly anchored in reality, and Guy Oberson, from Switzerland, whose drawings are both inspired by and re-examine the photographs of Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Todd Hido: In the Vicinity of Narrative is at Musée des Beaux Arts, Le Locle, Switzerland until 27 May. For more information, click here.

1.  ©Todd Hido, Untitled #7373, 2009. Courtesy Alex Daniels, Reflex Gallery, Amsterdam.

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