by Michael Beckert April 1, 2020
I first came across the work of Todd Hido like most teenagers did in the early 2010’s, on Tumblr. Despite creating the bulk of his viral portfolio in the late 90s, Hido’s pictures of moody suburban homes at night and lonely domestic interiors resonated with Millennial teens, earning prized positions on their blogs, my own included. It’s been years since I’ve logged into my now defunct Tumblr, but last week, in my quarantined boredom, I found myself scrolling through my immortalized digital teen diary (I will not be providing a link…sorry) and re-discovered Hido’s work in which, considering my current isolation, I’ve found new meaning and relevance. I decided to shoot Hido an email asking if he might be open to discussing his work within the context of the quarantine. Read our discussion on his works Interiors and Homes at Night, and why Hido is suddenly using the phone again, below.
We’re all stuck in our apartments now, which is actually why I thought of your work in the first place, and interviewing you. Which I mean in a good way.
We’ve also been on lockdown for over a week now. It’s kind of fascinating when you realize how much we normally do that we take for granted. There have always been themes of isolation and a sort of loneliness in my photographs. It’s just been in my work ever since I first did the suburban work, even though I’m not really a lonely person—I’m generally quite, kind of happy and enjoy people. Strangely, as soon as this stuff started happening I started looking at my pictures and then, all of a sudden there were all these new words that we’ve never used before to describe them.
Totally. Previously I’d use words like lonely, isolated, or even ethereal to describe your work, but never quarantine. Now I see your pictures within the context of a pandemic and they take on this new identity.
Yeah, I wanted to make some kind of post on my Instagram with something like that. And then, all of a sudden, the first day I did was when this quarantine started for us out here, and I was really surprised by the response that I got.
What were people saying?
There were people that were saying “thank you,” and sometimes they happen to be witty—and I’ll come up with something funny, and then people are like, “thank you for making me laugh.” I’ve never heard that about my artwork before—except for that cat picture. That’s the only one that people think is funny. But no one’s ever said, “thanks for making me laugh.” You know?
I think I saw that photograph on your Instagram. On one hand, your images, in a time like this, are finally relatable in the sense that they visualize this idea of social distancing really well. Still, though, they’re this extreme representation of the quarantine—so there is some real humor there.
I feel really lucky that just sharing my pictures can do that. You know, it’s kind of amazing how art becomes one of those things that…because we can’t go to the bookstore, we can’t go to the museum, we can’t even go buy stuff…all of a sudden, this thing that I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with, Instagram, is this tool that we have which reaches so many people instantly.
I can’t imagine the quarantine without the internet. You have two series you’re especially known for: Homes at Night and Interiors. Which did you start shooting first?
It was Homes at Night. I started shooting it in 1996 out in California, during graduate school, and then the Interiors sort of came about after. The one thing about the pictures is they’re not about anybody specific, and I think this is why they speak to people. The number one thing I would hear from people prior to this thing is, “that [photo] reminds me of… blah, blah, blah,” something in their own past.
Right, since there aren’t any people in these images, it’s really easy to project yourself into them. They become a canvas that the viewer can invite themselves into.
In Interiors you’re photographing the insides of different suburban homes—sort of the opposite of Homes at Night. The homes are barren, though, and include these estranged domestic objects like mattresses, phones, drapes, etc. Outside the context of the quarantine, I’m wondering what meaning these objects take on when they’re separate from the humans that interact with them?
Interiors and the Houses at Night kind of developed at the same time. The houses were more of a focus, and then I started to realize that these pictures of places could be like portraits. They’re not about architecture or anything like that. I started to realize that architecture and rooms and walls can kind of talk. With the ruffled sheets or an old mattress of somebody that moved out of a house or something, or like, a television blaring into the night. There’s some kind of narrative in those images because it feels like somebody was just there or just walked out of there. So that’s really what my interest was and it developed strongly from realizing that I wasn’t taking pictures of places. I was sort of making pictures about people.
I’ve even found myself in quarantine finding a lot of solace in my belongings. I feel a real sense of company with them.
Absolutely. I mean, I’m totally nesting right now and doing things around the house and being happy that I’m home. But the positive parts of this is that I do think the way we do things in the world could change for the better. We’ll see if they stick, but there are positive environmental things happening. You know people won’t be moving around as much as they need—as much as they have been in the past. Because, it’s almost a weird, eerie thing…It’s like the world said “Hey, you guys are fucking this place up and I’m gonna slow it down!”
I completely agree. It’s surreal. As someone who has, in some sense, spent part of their life studying this idea of isolation or loneliness, or what it means to have a narrative attached to an image that excludes other people, what would you say is the personal benefit of spending time alone during the quarantine?
It’s an opportunity to calm down, because life is crazy. Being able to be more contemplative. To actually connect more to people. Because even if it’s not in person, I’ve had time to actually really talk to my friends, even if it’s on the phone. I mean, I haven’t talked on a phone in ages.