This week I want to talk about a couple of photographers whose work I have been interested in. While I enjoy taking pictures of interesting places and things, especially when the light hits the subject "just right," I have never been able to view myself as a photographer. I don't know quite why that is. It probably has to do with the fact that I often feel compelled to later paint the image I photographed. As I was doing some research for recent paintings I came across photographer Todd Hido's work. While Hido works with a variety of subjects, I find myself intrigued by his vacant interiors and obscure exteriors. I have also been directed to look at the work of photographer Uta Barth's very simplified images which exude an abstract beauty that tends to be less common in photographic compositions.
I’m not sure what it is that attracts me to Todd Hido’s work. Perhaps the ambiguity of the subjects is something that intrigues me. Many of his exteriors are random apartments or houses that are photographed at night. There isn’t anything extraordinary about them – they could be any house in any neighborhood that you’ve driven past a thousand times. Many of the works that interest me are shots with dramatic lighting and a sense of atmosphere that is created with a combination of color and light. One of the physical qualities that results from his use of light is a sort of simplification of the subject. The buildings and vehicles become more like basic shapes with an emphasis on some of the extreme lights and darks. These physical characteristics result in ambiguous images that can leave much interpretation up to the viewer.
Hido approaches his interior photos in much the same way. They aren’t about what’s there, but almost more about what is missing. Dingy empty rooms. Is your glass half empty, or half full? Is this a place that is full of anticipation and hope, or of sad memories and broken dreams? It’s nothing, but every viewer walks away seeing and feeling something different. As one who likes to paint spaces like this I enjoy the various levels of information. There are dark areas that seem void of information or like something is hidden there, other places have piles of dirt, or trash that create small areas of visual interest, and often there are empty windows that fall somewhere in between. To me so much of his work relies on the mood of the viewer. The images could easily be regarded as irrelevant common areas. They could be viewed as voyeuristic and creepy, or they could also be seen as nostalgic and beautiful.
As one who has always been intrigued by the play of light and shadows, I feel this is one of the primary things that attracts me to both Hido’s work, and that of photographer Uta Barth. Barth uses a different approach to her work, but accomplishes many of the same effects. Like Hido, Bart also uses light and shadow to create important compositional elements in her work. Many of her photos are entirely, or almost entirely about the shapes created by shadows. While some of her work includes parts of the photographer like a hand holding a curtain, or a foot at the bottom of an image where the shadow of a body is cast, I feel that her most successful work happens when the image remains more ambiguous and just allows the shadows to create lines and patterns. A fan of Morandi's still life work, Barth also has a series that utilizes the reflective qualities of colored glass bottles reflected on a wall to create her images.
I find her use of indirect images intriguing. I am one who has always appreciated these images myself, but haven’t seen them represented as the primary subject of artwork this way before. Like Hido, Barth uses parts of common images to create beautiful minimal work. Her simplistic subjects sometimes reveal themselves, but other time they remain obscure. I think the simple lines and soft lines are what make her photos quite unique. Typically photography provides clear realistic images as opposed to those modifies by a painter, but Barth manages to use photography to capture very minimal abstract compositions that often require the viewer to look a little longer to work out the details.