Arts Desk

Photographer Timothy Hyde and the Art of Darkness

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Timothy Hyde, a D.C.-based photographer, has assembled his current exhibition in the dark. Not in the darkroom—literally in the shadows.

Hyde's series “Darkness Visible”—on view at Alexandria’s Multiple Exposures Gallery through Feb. 16—comprises images shot at night.

"In both literature and our collective memory, nighttime is charged with meaning—sometimes the provenance of evil and ignorance, sometimes the setting for disguise, concealment, identity switching, and nearly always the locus of confusion,” he writes in his artist’s statement. “What we see in a night photograph is defined by what we don’t see, by what lurks in the shadows. Or maybe it’s the other way around."

Hyde grew up in Iowa and first moved to Washington in the 1980s. His career in public affairs took him to other places for some stretches, but mostly he’s lived in the Washington area for the past 30 years, most recently along the Potomac River near Mount Vernon.

Hyde recently spoke to Washington City Paper about his work.

Washington City Paper: How did you get started in photography?

Timothy Hyde: I studied photography in college as an art form, not as a trade, and have collected photo books and been interested in photography my whole life. It wasn’t until a dozen years ago, though, that I actually picked up a camera and began to shoot. It quickly became, in turns, a hobby, an obsession, and a career. Hyde 2It is hard to make a living today with a camera, so I still work part time in public affairs, but this is my main endeavor these days.

WCP: Describe some of your prior series and what drove them.

TH: Early on, I began shooting natural disasters. Over the years, I have covered earthquakes in Haiti and Italy, tsunamis in Japan, hurricanes in Louisiana and Texas, New York and Vermont, floods in Iowa, Colorado, and numerous other places, as well as forest fires and droughts. This series came out of a deep conviction that Mother Nature is vastly more powerful than we diminutive humans, and that we can mess this planet up for ourselves, we cannot "ruin" it.

Whenever humans think that we are in control of nature, she pushes back—sometimes slowly through decay and rust and erosion, sometimes rapidly through earthquakes and floods and the like. This planet will be doing just fine long after we humans and our human works are lost and forgotten in some oceanic trench, grist for some new mountain range.

WCP: What is the subject matter in the new show, and why is meaningful to you?

TH: This lifelong fascination with our human limitations has found new expression in the exploration of darkness. The set of faculties Hyde 3that we humans inherited are even more limited in the dark. We aren't defenseless, but sometimes it seems that way. Also, the commonplace takes on uncommon characteristics once you begin subtracting light. You can learn new things about what you already think you know pretty well.

WCP: Is it scary at night?

TH: Sure–I’ve had a few scary moments, times I've felt threatened by other people who are also lurking or walking around at night. Then there are the property owners or busybodies who wonder why you are taking pictures in the dark. Police and security guards are always interested in what you are doing, and I've been kicked out of plenty of places. And, of course, there is just the innate human fear of shadows. Even when there are no menacing people around, one is always wary of what may be hiding in that alleyway.

In some ways, this low-grade edge of fear adds a kind of creative energy to making photographs at night. One's senses seem to be more fine-tuned.

WCP: When you’re shooting in the dark, do you feel like a trespasser?

TH: When you are standing in the shadows at night, even in your own yard, holding still to take a shot, you can't help but feel a little like what my kids call a "creeper." It feels stealthy even when it is not. It looks suspicious even when it is on public property or in a public alleyway. And it feels like that too. That isn't even talking about closed industrial parks, or the backs of shopping centers, and the like.

WCP: What are some of your favorite images in the show, and why?

TH: I spent a lot of time editing and sequencing this show—more than any project ever before. There is a clear narrative element to it—each person will form his or her own narrative, I hope. So some images are pivotal.

I begin and end with highways, so the first image, “Country Road, 2013” (second from top), is a favorite and critical to the narrative element. The photograph I used for promotional purposes, “District Alley, 2013” (bottom) is really the crux of the show, and also one of my favorites.The interior Hyde 5photograph of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria (second from bottom), is one of those images that brings me peace. I find it soothing and a nice respite from the more disturbing aspects of the exhibit.

WCP: Tell me about the process you use.

TH: About seven years ago I gave up film and began shooting digital medium format, which has been my primary camera system for a long time. The photographs in this show were mostly shot with a digital Leica because of the flexibility, portability, and low-light capabilities of this system. Only about a third were shot with a tripod, which is also a departure for my gallery work. I like the control I have with digital. I can control the entire process, from capture to framing.

WCP: Who are your photographic influences?

TH: Overall, I think Stephen Shore has had more influence on my photographic sensibility, and on the way I look at the world through a camera, than anyone else. Plenty of others also contributed: Walker Evans, William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander. The person who probably influenced this show more than any other is our own John Gossage, particularly his book on the Berlin Wall, with its marvelous night photography.

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All photos by Timothy Hyde

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