Photography has often been taken up as the art form that is true, that captures the world and life as it truly is. It is also largely dependent on interpretation and contextual elements, such as the availability of light. So it’s fair to ask how limited light changes a photograph’s narrative and how accurately an image is captured when light is scarce. The nighttime photos featured in Night(Light), on view through January 28 at the NCMA, call these questions to mind.
The interplay between night and light is demonstrated here in the work of Lynn Saville, Todd Hido, and others. Photographs by these artists push our expectations of and reactions to everyday scenes that seem to transform after sunset, opening such places up to alternative behaviors and activities of the night.
Each artist’s approach to capturing light offers us a range of possibilities for interpreting the night. They can either draw us into something familiar—such as Saville’s city skyline and Pepsi-Cola sign—or send chills down our backs, as does looking at the eery, abandoned homes in Todd Hido’s photographs.
Todd Hido, Untitled #2424A, 1999, chromogenic print, 24 x 20 in., Gift of Allen
G. Thomas Jr., © 2016 Todd Hido
Circa: Many critics have highlighted the theme of home in your work, specifically how these images suggest an alternative sense of home. In fact these homes come across as more eery and haunted than warm and inviting. Is this how you feel about the suburban homescape?
Todd Hido: Yes, the suburban landscape definitely signifies something that is more of a dark psychological place for me that I could not wait to get out of. Everyone has his or her own experience, and the sense of isolation and loneliness that I sensed is very much something I think can occur when places are prepackaged and sold to us as a lifestyle. You certainly cannot cram humans into a mold. For many of its inhabitants, it simply does not work.
Circa: When you were out driving at night to take these pictures, what caused you to stop and take that photograph? What is a visual cue or more of an emotive pull?
TH: I am always triggered by a sense of disarray. It's a disheveled curtain, an unkempt yard, a nonoperation vehicle that looks like it has been sitting in the same place for years parked out front.
Circa: It's been a while since you did the series; how do you think suburbia is changing? Perhaps in its relation to our idea of a stable American setting or ideal?
TH: We are constantly being challenged, and frankly our ideals have been greatly diminishing by having a narcissist and liars in power within our government—this combined with the ever growing tide of disclosure of wrongdoings and abuse of power in the workplace makes me feel that many things in the United States, including suburbia, have been in an ever-growing sense of destabilization.
Circa: Do you think we overlook simplicity in our everyday lives?
TH: I can’t speak for anybody other than myself on this question. I know that I strive to slow down and actually see that simplicity, and I am often fighting to just get a clear space in my brain to notice what is actually occurring around me.