The Badlands – A Reflection on Todd Hido’s Work
One night in Russia I got into in the passenger seat of a beat up Volkswagen. My friend Vadim was driving. We found ourselves on the edge of a large city. We were in that grey area where the gritty outskirts meet vast swathes of the empty Russian countryside. It was in the middle of winter. It was in the dead of night. It had been threatening to snow all day long and finally snowflakes started to drift down from the night sky. They were slowly, hesitantly falling at first, covering everything with a soft white blanket. But then the snow started coming down on us with a vengeance.
Vadim took me down this newly built highway. It parallelled the old main road into the city centre along the river. It hugged the east flank of the city. He told me that the road belonged neither to the city council nor to the regional authorities. This meant that even if we were caught speeding by the police, there was no way that we could be booked. Officially the road did not exist, as our location could not be pinpointed on a map.
The sun is barely strong enough to defend itself against the broiling clouds, diffusing the little light there is.
My friend was seriously hitting the gas, and we were racing down the road. Snowflakes were hurling onto the windscreen. Visibility was reduced to a bare minimum. To the left large, sinister shapes of half built, uninhabited flats loomed in the distance. To the right there was absolutely nothing. There wasn’t even a single car in sight. For all we knew, we could be the last people still alive. And here we were, swerving full speed and with squealing tires down this obscure road. My stomach was in my throat, my heart was drumming in my ears, adrenaline was pumping through my veins. For a few terrifying, exciting and simply glorious moments I thought we were going to crash and burn. But I felt so alive, so in the moment, that I couldn’t care less. I was starring in some post-apocalyptic movie and I was cherishing every single minute of it.
If I could have captured that particular moment on film, it should have looked like the landscape images Todd Hido shot for his series Between the Two and A Road Divided. These photographs form a natural progression in Hido’s oeuvre. He started with picturing artificially lit but haunting suburbia at nighttime and continued by depicting foreclosures. He then moved on to portray awkward models in decrepit motels and finally arrived at photographing that bit of the land where the built environment gives way to the countryside. In his work he explores the space where civilization succumbs to the forces of nature. Even though Hido took his pictures in the San Francisco Bay Area, the images do an incredible job of conjuring up my personal experience of speeding down that Russian motorway.
Hido is the last living soul and he is aimlessly driving onwards.
To produce these images, Hido trudged down some desolate back roads on rather miserable days. The pictures are relentlessly uncomfortable. They are cloaked in eeriness. Looking at them, the viewer can all too easily imagine the driver drowning in loneliness. Vast expanses of the country open up in front of the car. The ever-present road stretches from here to infinity. Hido is the last living soul and he is aimlessly driving onwards. The only thing shielding him from the horrendous weather conditions in this dangerous and forsaken world is his car. The only window onto the alien landscape is his windshield.
Bumping along the potholes in the road his perspective continuously tilts, his angle perennially shifts. The snowflakes and raindrops blur his vision. They somehow soften the outlook on the harsh world out there. The sun is barely strong enough to defend itself against the broiling clouds, diffusing the little light there is. Moving from one photograph to the next, an ominous feeling arises. The viewer is sucked in to worry about burning daylight and finding a place to settle for the night. Will we arrive safely at our destination? Or will we perish by the wayside? Like Hido, we can only keep moving further into the badlands, mile after countless mile…
Todd Hido: Between the Two. 2006. Nazraeli Press. ISBN: 978-1590051764
Todd Hido: A Road Divided. 2010. Nazraeli Press. ISBN: 978-1590052662