I have been going around to photographers asking them one question: “What was the first photo book that you can remember buying or seeing that really had a strong affect on you?” Here is Todd Hido’s response:
I remember it clearly. It was 1986, my first year of college. A teacher of mine showed us Emmet Gowin’s Photographs. It spoke to me in a 1000 different ways. I saw the image where he has the curtains tied open to the hanging light in the center of the room. Edith awaits, leaning on the bed. Completely surreal. You know instantly things are not exactly as they appear to be—that there is some force of quiet strangeness taking over. It feels almost sinister. After meeting Emmet years later, I bet that darkness was not what he saw. But that was just it—that is what I saw.
From that day I realized that you can take simple, ordinary, everyday things and make something out of them. You can make a statement by using what is right in front of you. It was a powerful lesson that stayed with me: you can use your room, your home, your neighborhood, your family to make art. (This point was further reinforced for me by seeing a show called The Pleasures & Terrors of Domestic Comfort at MOMA in New York, and ultimately by becoming a student and friend of Larry Sultan’s, who drove that lesson all the way home for me…)
Gowin’s Photographs also taught me how powerful a heavy dose of emotion can be—his work is so tender and sincere. The story of this book continued as my path blindly lead me to the Museum School in Boston. It turned out that one of my favorite teachers ever, Virginia Behan, was a neighbor of Gowin’s. Also, another one of my great teachers, Jim Dow, had been classmates with Emmet at RISD. Dow, Behan, and a third professor of mine, Elaine O’Neil, invited him to visit our school many times. Here I was meeting the person whose work had affected me so much! It really was very lucky for that to happen.
Over my years at the Museum School there were several encounters with Emmet. He was so open and shared so much of his process with us. I remember one day he had us over to his home and we got to see where he made his prints. It was a darkroom made in an extra room of his home. It was so simple. Nothing fancy. Seeing these things, these small things like where one of the best printers in the history of the medium did his thing—with a set-up that wasn’t really all that special—was invaluable. It demystifies the process; it makes you think, “hey—this is not unattainable—maybe I could do this too?”