First Book: Todd Hido

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?”

Todd Hido

7 Replies to “First Book: Todd Hido”

  1. one of my favs too. a few years back i saw emmet speak at t he university of utah, he was touring with his project/book of amazing areal photographs. edith was there to support him, what an amazing couple.

    thanks for making a great blog


  2. I swear, 5 years of art history and I never learned as much about art then when I started making my own art and buying used books. Pouring over the process and looking for ways to to to. Well, Todd Hido loves Gowin. Explains at lot, now I know – thanks for asking! (and blogging) cheers,

  3. thanks Todd and Alec for sharing remarkable encounters
    and inspiration. every truly great photographer i’ve had the joy
    of meeting (you two included) have reinforced what Todd touches on,
    “demystifying the process” and bringing our heroes to a human
    level were they ultimately gain solid footing and access to a greatness
    that we can identify, touch and in the process, recognize a similar
    spirit in ourselves. I spent a day with robert and kirstin adams a few years
    ago in their home, sharing conversation at their modest kitchen table
    over a hot bowl of soup and warm bread, opening flat-file drawers with
    “bob” and driving away with one of my favorite robert adams pictures in
    the back seat. my eyes were glued to the rearview mirror for the entire
    two-hour drive back to portland, fleeting with a stolen prize, like a heist.
    too good to be true.

  4. That very sinister, quiet image has always been one of those images that I could stare at for days and not get bored with. The amazing way that that single image says so many different things at once still baffles me. The composition is perfect, the lighting, everything about that photo makes me remember why I love photography so much. The way that Hido describes how the photo makes him feel, and how after he met Emmet Gowin that it probably was not made to feel dark just makes it that much more interesting. If Gowin wasn’t meaning it to feel strange, dark, and sinister, what was he trying to set the mood as?

  5. must say yes – must say this is a wonderful thing to read today – here’s to the simple things – the warm bread and soft butter, a well made meal and a beautiful image… yes. thank you all involved in these thoughts here today..

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