The Quest of Bowen Island

My inspiration has always been photography's ability to stop time and reveal what the naked eye cannot see. —Lois Greenfield

A few weeks ago, I conducted an online search for a written assignment. Magically, I stumbled upon a workshop that involved one of my TOP influences of all time! My first thought, “Does Todd Hido really do workshops?” was followed by, “Is this for real?” As internet starstruck as I was, my thoughts didn’t matter: I signed up. Hastily, I booked my flight, ferry itinerary, and hotel room for Bowen Island, BC.

In case my reader is wondering exactly who Mr. Hido is, and why I find his work so intriguing, it’s because of his peculiar nighttime imagery. Todd Hido (American, b. 1968) photographs with natural and ambient light and, while in the darkroom, manipulates the developing process to create a mood he’s looking for, all the while summoning reality. Within his series, Excerpts from Silver Meadows, Hido sets a scene, which includes soft color tones within images of landscapes. Driving through Silver Meadows on a rainy day, Hido captured beautiful photographs through his car window. The result is simply breathtaking, as his images appear as if they are paintings. The soft edges of the landscape seem like gentle brush strokes as they blend beautifully from land, to water, to sky. The hint of color adds detail to the imagery and creates an illusion or dream state.

 Todd Hido  |   Untitled #5368

Todd Hido  |  Untitled #5368

Notwithstanding a travel date set for Friday the thirteenth, I never considered bad luck. Why would I? I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with one of my biggest influences. As I ventured to San Francisco International Airport, I was greeted with many delays, all of which occurred exactly 30 minutes apart—all five hours of them. I thought the delays were due to the devastating fires in the North Bay, but with the plane sitting right in front of our gate having a tire changed, it was clear this was a mechanical issue—and that it takes several mechanics (and hours) to change a plane’s tire.

My careful planning soon evaporated as I began to do the math, realizing that not only would I miss the last ferry from Vancouver to Bowen Island but I would also not be able to check into my hotel room. Despite my fate, I quickly booked a hotel room in Vancouver and figured I could easily catch an early-morning ferry in time for the workshop.

Saturday morning came quickly, as I had set an early alarm after a late-night arrival. I gathered my bags, climbed in a cab, and headed to Horse Shoe Bay to catch a ferry to Bowen Island bright and early. Now, when I mention my bags, I’m not speaking lightly. I (over) packed a duffle filled with warm clothes, a camera backpack (including tripod), and a portfolio case (stuffed with my prints, a laptop, iPad, and cords). This gal is pretty rugged, but I never thought there would be a narrow staircase on the ferry. I’m sure it wasn’t hard to notice that I was the only portfolio-carrying “camper” on the ferry.

Somehow, I thought to call the nice gentleman from FotoFilmic (our workshop host and contact), who kindly offered to meet me at the ferry dock. Based on our descriptions of each other over the phone, I delightedly recognized Bastien as I disembarked the ferry. Being a sympathetic, young gentleman with a deep French-Canadian heritage and accent, my new acquaintance offered to carry my duffle, and off we went, walking through the quaint harbor and into town to the workshop.

I was fifteen minutes late and worried I would interrupt Todd’s presentation. After I quietly entered the room and found a place to lay down all of my baggage and gear, I found a chair in the back of the tiny room. I pulled out my notebook and began writing immediately.

Though I’ve never heard Todd’s voice, it seemed familiar. With a confident and steady pace, Todd spoke with experience and knowledge, all the while passing on lessons to the workshop attendees. He spoke of his time in graduate school, specifically, a “narrative course.”    It was during this class that Todd began working on his series involving photographing houses at night. I recall him advising us, “Go and shoot … Paths will emerge.”

Todd told us that he spent hours driving around the San Francisco Bay Area, looking and looking, and found a neighborhood that reminded him of his hometown in Ohio. Oddly, this neighborhood is almost in my backyard. Todd spent many, many nights in Daly City, California, photographing old, worn homes that were “lit from within.”

Many things resonated with me during Todd’s lecture. Honestly, I could have sat for days, weeks, months … listening. Perhaps I connect with this particular artist because much of his work is based on memories, as is my current work. Nevertheless, when he said, “Turn your camera inside,” I knew my efforts to arrive at this workshop were worth every moment of tested patience.

The rest of the day was spent listening to more of Todd’s process, inspiration, influences, and syntax. (He’s currently shooting digitally and LOVES using the software program, Lightroom!)

Then, he turned his interest to us, his students. We were allowed a thirty-minute review, and for those of us who brought prints, Todd also gave guidance on knowledge, perception, and sequencing. Every single one of the attendees are remarkable artists … all exhibiting different, yet notable talent. I brought the prints from my thesis proposal and one new image. I was incredibly nervous and considered sitting quietly in the back and not presenting.  Something came over me, because I knew why I was there: to learn. Eventually, I volunteered to show my prints.

I began by explaining my thesis project, Blue Pencils. I pulled out my newest print, then another, and another, until all the 13x19” prints were sprawled out on the table before our group. Todd methodically studied each print,  picked up and held some of the images to take a closer look, changed the sequence, and eliminated several. I was pleased to see that some of the remaining prints are the images that I most recently found as “keepers,” with the help of my MFA professor and peers. Silently, I smiled. Todd offered me incredible input and ideas in continuing my “strong” narrative, and I’m really excited to investigate these areas.

After our day of lecture, I was eager to visit FotoFilmic’s current solo exhibit by a young photographer and attendee of Todd’s workshop, Jill Beth Hannes. As we strolled down the woodsy path into town, I recognized how fortunate I was that everything clicked into place and that I was actually THERE.

Our group was greeted at the lovely reception with appetizers, wine, and a warm fire. After visiting with several of the attendees, I strolled a short distance to the gallery to view FotoFilmic’s exhibition. As I reviewed the work, I was drawn to several of the self-portraits, noticing that, perhaps, Cindy Sherman could be a likely influence. This body of work was fluid, deep, and developed. As I usually do, I reviewed the images and, then, read the artist’s bio.

I was at home. As I read, I learned the artist is a fellow graduate of the Academy of Art University.

 Jill Beth Hannes  |   Rearview

Jill Beth Hannes  |  Rearview