Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

September 5, 2022

GREENE | Todd Hido’s “Interiors”

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Much of Todd Hido’s photography is void of subjects. Capturing interior spaces, the exteriors of homes at night or isolated suburban off-shoots, Hido’s photography peers into the sheltered spaces of private life and is less revealing than suggestive of untold narratives.

The feeling of Hido’s work teases at voyeuristic: the perspective of his photos feels privileged, but is not wholly satisfying because we are never shown the private moments his photos come so close to revealing.

Hido’s photographs do not depict the leftovers of a Thanksgiving meal, or wine-stained glasses at a cocktail party, or a child’s shoe prints in a mud room; rather, they denote scenes of great solitude, loneliness and isolation.

Hido’s work is significant because it attempts to universalize these phenomena –– phenomena that are innately private and unseen. I believe that his attempt is a successful one: Hido’s photographs beg for a subject, and one cannot help but insert one into the frame. This absence, and the subsequent impulse to account for it in a way that is specific and personal to the viewer, strengthens the associative qualities of Hido’s photographs.

I met with a childhood friend over the summer, having not seen her for over a year. I greeted her with a hug, and we sat down at a table on the street in upper Manhattan. She told me rather quickly that she had been released from a psychiatric ward just three months prior, where she was being held on suicide watch. She had been living alone in downtown Manhattan, struggling with depression. She showed me scars up along her arm, telling me in a very matter of fact way that she had been drinking herself to excess, researching the lethal dosage of certain medications she had access to and had attempted to create a noose from a jump rope in her studio apartment, but that the ceilings were too low. After asking several friends for a gun, one of them called an ambulance and she was taken to the hospital. Her family flew in and her mother had been living with her in her apartment since. It was the night of her 24th birthday when she told me all of this.

It is difficult not to apply the variety of emotive readings of Hido’s photos to spaces and communities that are close to myself. I cannot help but think about my friend when I see Hido’s art, or attempt to imagine the physical space of her apartment on her worst nights. Or the wall art, the ruffled bedding, the family photos in West Campus dorms where students have taken their lives here in Ithaca.

I don’t believe that Hido’s collection is in direct reference to suicide, but thought of in that dim light, Hido’s art empathizes with the experience of solitude by detailing the spaces in which it is most authentically felt, and most scarcely seen. By doing so, we are encouraged not only to think about the private lives of those we know, but also of those we do not, but may hear about for the first time in emails from the University informing us of their passing.

The touching part of Hido’s art is that one can choose to fill his spaces with whatever they want; paint the walls green, replace the grim lighting with something more luminous –– or, do what I believe he wants us to: sit in a space for the very reason that it is unfamiliar and disorienting.

Hido’s medium offers a passage for conceptualizing solitude, which is, like the photographs themselves, hollow and deeply unsatisfying. It is sad that in the years that I have been a student at Cornell, I cannot keep track of the number of students who have taken their lives. And even sadder is that I cannot recall those students whose names appeared, for a moment, in my inbox, before they were forgotten.

It is only when we lose someone whom we knew that we attempt to detail their pain. But Hido’s photography details that pain as an offering for even deeper consideration, emotional ponderance and recognition of not just the lived isolation of others, but of all endured suffering that is not our own.

“Oftentimes what you’re photographing isn’t the subject of your photograph but a vehicle to get people to think about the subjects that you’re interested in. They’re really not about houses, they’re about people,” said Hido.

I hope that Hido’s photographs make students think about the low-lit and ugly forms of private life experienced on and off this campus: that they are softened to the realities of loneliness and pain everyone feels, but seldom shares, and that they may consider the mental and emotional bouts of others by sitting with this art, and perhaps, as a result, offer greater kindness, camaraderie and consideration to strangers who may very much need it.