I distinctly remember writing down Todd Hido’s name in my travel notebook when I was at the San Francisco MoMA in 2000. I was standing in front of a small version of a photo from his Homes at Night series and was fascinated by its eerie atmosphere. Fast forward to September, 2015. Todd and I are enjoying the last rays of sunlight of summer as we sit outside on an Amsterdam canal and shoot the proverbial breeze about the tidyness of his photography and the untidiness of his collages. Definitely one of the cooler moments in life.
You can visit Todd Hido – Selections from a Survey: ‘Khystyna’s World’ until November 10, 2015 at the Galerie Reflex Amsterdam.
So Todd, I’ve read a lot of interviews with you by people who ask you some very serious questions. What is your lighter side?
I’m actually quite light and a happy person. I get all my darkness out of my work.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
No! Well, sleeping in.
What does an average day look like for you?
I wake up and start working. I work from home, actually. I’m obsessed – for the last ten months I’ve been working on my new studio. I have this lovely Craftsman home that was built in 1916 in a beautiful neighborhood near Berkeley. I’ve always wanted to have a proper studio. Last year I was finally able to carve out the space in my backyard and have it built.
What does your studio look like?
Ironically, it looks just like my house. I live in a very period specific neighborhood and as soon as you build something that’s different it really looks odd. I just wanted something to match my home. My builder asked me so many questions but the answers were already there. How far should that hang over? What’s the trim going to be like? And all I had to tell him to just look at the house. Before he started I said, I want you to know I’m very meticulous. And he said – okay no problem. And then about six months later he said, you’re very meticulous! But if you’re building your dream, that’s the only way to be, right?
I understand that you have children?
Yes! I have two thirteen year-old twins. A boy and a girl.
Are they into photography?
I wouldn’t say they’re into it but the definitely appreciate photography. They don’t take pictures themselves. They’re too busy playing soccer.
What do they think about your work?
They understand what I do. I like to shoot in cloudy weather and my son said I like it so much better when it’s cloudy – which is funny because we live in California.
But you’re from Ohio originally, right?
Yes, a totally different place! My kids have met a lot of photographers coming through my house. I teach at the California College of the Arts and a lot of times when we have lectures we have people over for lunch afterwards.
We’re both teachers! What do you like best about teaching?
I like sharing my passion for photography with people who care about it as much as I do. It’s fun to come home from an overseas adventure and bring a stack of books to my classroom and then see how my students actually get something out of it. I teach by example and tell my students about the lessons I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made myself. I make them realize that photography is a lot of hard work. You can be successful once with something, but to do it again – that’s the real trick.
Would you consider doing a Homes at Night series here in the Netherlands?
Things are very different over here. What I love about this place is exactly why it wouldn’t work for a photographer. The homes are so beautiful. Everything is gorgeous, so tidy and perfect. The places I photograph are very untidy and imperfect. The messiness is what makes my pictures interesting. It makes you take that second look. I have a picture here at the exhibition of a home with cars parked on the yard. It’s totally white trash America. I remember seeing it riding by on the freeway, getting off and driving back to find it because I just had to photograph it. Here in Holland, I’d be more interested in portraits.
Can you tell me about your collage you’ve made for the exhibition?
It’s very new. In fact, this is only the fifth one I’ve ever done. I’ve always kept scraps, pieces of my work and sketches of things I’ve done. One day, I started arranging them in my studio and noticed that together, they work as a single piece, as a sketchbook. It’s not really a storyboard but more a supermultifaceted moment.
Do you think in advance about what you’re going to put in or do you just let it happen?
It’s very spontaneous. What’s curious about it is that I’ve never done that’s not been spontaneous. With collages, I just collect stuff I’m interested in on a big board in front of me. And then I cut everything out and start moving things around. For this particular collage at Reflex, I went back into my contact sheets and found images that were related to the ones that are on display here. They’re alternatives but still interesting . It all happens super quickly. As a photographer everything is always tidy, but with the collage my fingerprints are all over the pictures.
I teach collage making so my students are going to be very happy reading this interview.
Maybe you could teach me, because I’m new to it! I realize collages are about spontaneity. You’ve got to have a lot of things to pick from.
And then it’s the combiation that makes the story, right?
Yes, you can build a very complex story with collages. Mine are all the same person in different moments. I spontaneously spit it out right here in Amsterdam. If I did it at home on a board over multiple days I don’t know if it would be better. I have to try that actually, I’ll let you know how it went. Up until now, I’ve just banged out every collage I’ve done. And I don’t bang anything out with my photography! That’s why I like it. Also, as a photographer I can always make a print of my work. But the collages are totally unique.
You sell one and then it’s gone.
Yes, I guess you just have to let go of it.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out as a photographer?
Just do what you want to do. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Figure out what it is you want to do and just stick to it.