"Between the Two" is a complex and engaging body of new work by Bay Area photographer Todd Hido on display at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery through Saturday. The artist often photographs buildings in desolate landscapes; his work, which has been called mysterious and disconcerting, exudes an eerie stillness.
But this exhibition of 35 images constitutes a new move for Hido. Here he presents solitary nude or scantily clad women in sparsely furnished rooms, offering a disquieting personal vision at once emotionally subjective and socially significant. These cryptic photographs are as much about the artist’s private fears, desires and experiences as they are about the "scenes" he constructs.
The portraits, nudes, interiors and night shots in "Between the Two," the photographer says, represent his tendency to photograph things he has had "problems with …stuff that used to keep me up at night." The nudity is an attempt to find an "openness, vulnerability, and tension that … amps up the emotion and brings out expressions and gestures that are really direct."
If these portraits form a type of psychic purging, they do so through a technical brilliance and intimate utilization of formal elements — simplicity of content, spatial orchestration of the posed models, highly developed compositional structure, dramatic lighting and limited tonal range. In so doing, the works reference the way women are often viewed as objects of desire.
The images are equally linked to broader social issues and strategies inherited from Western art historical traditions, which privilege the perspective of a heterosexual male in the display and presentation of women. In this show, sexism is reflected not only in the content, but also in the way it is presented.
The central question the exhibit raises is how the works function and what they may signify beyond the artist’s stated intent. While multiple layers of meaning emerge through historical references and free associations one may have when viewing the photographs, the challenge is to resist inherited ideological constraints in order to open a more sophisticated dialogue.
Where: Stephen Wirtz Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: Admission is free
Contact: (415)-433-6979 or www.wirtzgallery.com