PARIS—Light From Within is not just the title of the exhibition at Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire in Paris. It’s also an apt description of how things appeared at 17, rue des Filles-du-Calvaire on opening night September 5th. The facade was completely covered in scaffolding, and the lights of the reception were only evident at the far end of a long, dark courtyard. Still, the success of Todd Hido’s first exhibit at a Paris gallery underscored the Ohio native’s international stature.
The show drew from 20 years of work, thematically delineated on the galleries two levels. The densely crowded ground floor consisted of examples of “House Hunting,” brilliantly colored gems of suburban alienation that first made Hido famous. The romantic and mysterious nighttime photos of homes, illuminated by a single light, still captivate the imagination. In the late 1990s, Hido methodically drove around residential neighborhoods at night, scouting locations where he would use a tripod for four-minute exposures. Fog often enhanced the emotional quality of the images.
All the photos were shot from the same distance and all share a focal point of one light shining from the homes, usually the blue tint of television. They are hung dynamically to enhance the differences in the images. The effect is somewhat sinister, as if one is looking through the eyes of a stalker, a predator, spying on people safely inside their private worlds. Even after 20 years, these photographs feel fresh. In the crowded gallery, the stylish French crowd took a long time drinking in each photo with reverence; the front desk was besieged with people wishing to consult the price list.
The second floor displayed a selection of photographs from Hido’s most recent project “Bright Black World,” images from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Again, the mood is dark and ominous. Hido’s concern about the global environmental crisis inspired visions of how the world could look post-apocalypse. To quote Hido, “There is no question that this work is about the physicality of climate change that is occurring now. Unless you are in full-blown denial, as unfortunately many people are, these changes are coming far quicker than anybody expected.”
These sublime, uninhabited landscapes are different from his earlier work. His perspective and point of view changes, he pulls far back or shoots scenes through his windshield. Inclement weather adds energy and emotional abstraction. The scenes feel mythical. “Bright Black World” is a powerful project, but this selection is not ideal — a few strong images but some forgettable photos as well. The Bruce Silverstein Gallery, in New York City, had a much more powerful edit from this work last fall, accompanied by a luxuriously printed book.
Also on the second floor were weaker images, portraits of women taken over a span of ten years, concluding in 2016 – a few melancholy portraits of women from behind, some nudes. The images are mysterious but unsympathetic. The women have no personality and their bodies convey their discomfort with the direction and poses.
In a tiny, dark room to the side of the main area a collage of Polaroids and still photos showed women striking suggestive poses in old-fashioned underwear and frightened and physically damaged women. The evident misogyny is nearly grotesque and borders on cliché. If Hido’s work tends toward cinema, this particular scene evoked Silence of the Lambs. (The portrait series is not mentioned in the show’s press release, suggesting some ambivalence about their value. I watched a few sophisticated Parisians enter the room and leave quickly.)
The edit of the images on the second floor is uneven; the show’s main appeal was downstairs. Todd Hido held court in the center of the room, the somber nature of his photographs belied by the portly and cheerful character showing endless patience as he chatted with his guests long after the opening should have ended. I passed the gallery again later that night, the Light From Within was still going strong after 10pm, and there was Hido, engaged and surrounded by his Parisian fans.
Light From Within, Todd Hido will be up at Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire until October 19.