Looking Back

Todd Hido

May 1, 2024

On May 4, the largest exhibition of work by Todd Hido to date opens at Casemore Gallery in San Francisco. Fittingly, the show comes with a delightfully lengthy exhibition title: Some Polar Expiation, an Enormous Cat, a Complete Collection of Cinematic Houses at Night, a Starlet, a Mentor, some Assorted Reveries & a Message from the Future. In addition to a presentation of Hido’s complete House Hunting series, his haunting, forlorn photographs of suburban landscapes and interiors, the show includes images from his most recent body of work, The End Sends Advance Warning, published earlier this year by Nazraeli Press. Hido made these cinematic, melancholy images in settings ranging from Hawaii to the Arctic Circle. More images from this peripatetic photographer are on view in California as well: Todd Hido: A Series of Small Decisions is on view at Leica LA through May 27 and at Leica San Francisco through June 8.

We asked Todd Hido to tell us about a picture that means something to him, and why. 

I feel like my growth as a photographer can be cleanly demarcated into two halves: before I studied with Larry Sultan, and after. In fact, you might not be reading this right now, if it weren’t for him. 

In the early 1990s I was starting to think about going to graduate school for photography. One of the most significant exhibitions I recall seeing at that time was The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort at the Museum of Modern Art (1991), curated by Peter Galassi.

That show was where I first heard of Larry Sultan. I saw his photograph of his father on a bed and it was a revelation for me – it hit me instantly as a masterpiece of such unspoken complexity and emotion. I ended up studying with and then teaching with Larry at the California College of the Arts a couple of years later.

Making photographs that cross-examined being part of a family, through the good and the bad, was a brand-new idea to me at that point. I already knew that I wanted to photograph the notion of family, but without necessarily making pictures of my own family. Larry taught me that you can walk up to sentimentality but not become it, and he showed me that pictures of domesticity didn’t need to consist of portraits, but that the places families inhabit can, in fact, be just as powerful and revealing. My series House Hunting was born, in part, from his mentorship.

He was one of the most generous and articulate people I’ve ever met – so truly thoughtful. After I was his student and eventually worked with him on the earliest shoots for The Valley, he gave me that print of his father on the bed. And I don’t mean that he gave me a print of Dad on Bed – when I turned it over to look at the back of the matboard, I saw registration stickers from MoMA. Then it hit me – he was giving me the exact print that first introduced me to his work a decade prior. It was such a humbling moment.