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Rachel Somerstein: On Todd Hido’s “Fragmented Narratives”

February 2, 2011

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By **Rachel Somerstein**


Rachel_Somerstein-small.jpgIn “Fragmented Narratives” at New York’s Bruce Silverstein Gallery through February 12, San Francisco-based photographer Todd Hido forges narratives through skillful edits of his works from different series: his trademark exteriors that show a single window glowing in the dark; nude women, who look like prostitutes, their expressions splitting the difference between victimized and sultry; and works never shown publicly before.

The groupings conjure ominous, often claustrophobic scenes, and seem to spell bitter ends for the women with which they’re associated: lonesome rooms from which escape seems impossible; a rain-slicked road that appears to end in the sea (or one of the Great Lakes?); long, watery stretches of never-ending rural highway; brutal nights with men, never shown, but evoked here by a pickup truck, there by a desk chair parked in one corner of a wood-paneled room (to say nothing of the women’s injured, come-on expressions). Taken together, these photos set a dark mood, at once suggesting and leaving to the imagination the lives lived in and around these eerie, creepy scenes.

Still, and though I was quite taken by “Fractured Narratives,” by show’s end the nudes felt a bit tiresome. That response may be symptomatic of my politics, maybe, or may be a general yawn at the proclivities of the art world. And critiquing the subject matter is a bit like saying, “I don’t like novels about boys growing up. Why don’t you write about bowling instead?” I don’t mean — to borrow a phrase from MFA land — to “drive Hido’s car” for him.

But in my own defense, I’m not the first to raise this critique. In a 2008 interview with Darius Himes Hido said, “In lectures I have been asked, ‘Why do you photograph only women?’ To which I respond that in a Creative Writing class in college, our very first lesson was that you should write about what you know. So, I photograph what I know.” The problem is, thanks to the art world, porn, movies, television, and men’s and women’s magazines alike, the fallen, nude, waxed woman is a trope everyone else knows too.

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Copyright 2011 Rachel Somerstein

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Rachel Somerstein’s feature on Obama’s art selections from the White House appeared in Guernica in 2009. Her essays and criticism have appeared in ARTnews and Next American City. She recently earned her M.F.A. from New York University and is presently at work on a collection of short fiction. She is a staff writer at Next American City.

To read blog entries from Rachel Somersteinand others at GUERNICA, click HERE .

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