The Prevailing Wind: Todd Hido's Excerpts from Silver Meadows
By Conor Risch
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In a lecture at the International Center of Photography in 1977, Robert Adams recalled reading a “suggestion” about the role of photographers written by Dorothea Lange. “She had called for the building of a file about ‘the life of the American people in the 1960s, with a particular emphasis on urban and suburban life,’” Adams explained. He noted that Lange said the file should “be concentrated on what exists and prevails.”
This assertion from Lange, passed down through Adams, resonated with Todd Hido. It has informed his work, partly because he grew up in the America that existed and prevailed in Adams’s photographs of suburbs in Denver and Colorado Springs. “He captured a real specific thing that was happening all over America at a specific time,” Hido says. “I definitely grew up in a Robert Adams suburb.” Rather than Denver, however, Hido’s version of suburban America was Silver Meadows, Ohio.
His new exhibition and book, “Excerpts from Silver Meadows,” which is showing at the newly opened Transformer Station in Cleveland and was recently published by Nazraeli Press, is a semi-autobiographical story of “a loose, fictitious place based on inadequate memory,” Hido says. It’s the story of a fallen suburb, after generations have come and gone, a “psychological take,” Hido says, on “those things that exist and prevail in modern America.”
The book can also be viewed as a story about Hido’s work as an artist until now, about the images and details that fill in the before and after portions of the narratives he’s alluded to in his photographs of house exteriors at night, of foreclosed homes and grimy motels, of women who appear to exist at the margins of society.
In his most conceptually complex book to date, found, archival and fabricated photographs surround Hido’s recent images. Experimental ‘zines, portions of smaller books and an editorial Hido created previously appear on massive, double-gatefolds. Spreads often show several images. Objects, like a note with a man’s handwritten body measurements, a clipping from the newspaper about Hido’s father’s football successes and a snapshot of a woman laying on a bed that looks like it’s been torn in half then taped back together, add layers to the narrative.
Portraits of nude or partially clothed women in shabby rooms allude to turbulent encounters with disreputable men. In Hido’s images we often see the women through the eyes of these men, making the viewer complicit. The women appear beautiful and fragile, sexually assertive, out of control and in danger; they seem trapped by circumstance. In one sequence we see a girl in the back seat of a car on Lover’s Lane with a bottle pressed to her lips; then a black-and-white snapshot of a head-on collision; then a series of portraits of a grown woman who may or may not be the girl from the car. Or maybe she’s just the wife of the car’s owner?
Hido’s interest in marginalized women comes from his upbringing. “You write what you know,” he says. “I grew up at the margins of society … those were the kind of people that I was around and so that’s what I make my work about. Plus, the queen isn’t as interesting.” He also draws ideas for his work from TV news, which he often leaves on in his studio as white noise. “There are definitely things that have happened in the world in the last year or so that have infiltrated their way into my work,” he says.
Among Hido’s images are views of desolate roads on dreary nights; an overturned tricycle left out to rust; an apartment building exterior strewn with trash; and a baby in a stroller whose closed eyes and oddly cocked head suggest it’s sleeping uncomfortably or worse.
Previous monographs from Hido have been more traditional and clean—one image to a page or spread. Yet the methodology that begat “Excerpts from Silver Meadows” has always been present in Hido’s studio. “I’ve always had these images of people that went with my places, I just never published them … these little stories have been brewing, and they’ve been in my head the whole time … you just hadn’t seen [them] yet.”
Working on ‘zines and side projects with publishers like Super Labo and Paul Schiek’s TBW Books, Hido was able to sketch out how he might tell those stories visually. “Those were important books,” Hido says. “When it came time to make another monograph I decided to incorporate the best parts of those.”
Fittingly, Hido drew from his archive, which includes family photos and found images, in addition to his artistic work, to create this tale of what exists and prevails. “I feel like it’s basically a source that you can pick and pull from,” he says, in an explanation that recalls Lange’s suggestion that a photographer “build a file” about the American people. “I work with where I came from, and it always repeats itself. The way life is set up is that you repeat things over and over again, and sometimes even when you think you’ve got it figured out, lo and behold you don’t.”
Text courtesy of Photo District News.