…that I’d put on a show of his work in the UK many, many years ago.Maybe it was 2006 or 2007, I can’t remember exactly. I had picked up a copy of House Hunting (Nazraeli Press) and was genuinely mesmerised and disturbed by the photographs of houses at night. I had picked up House Hunting (and subsequently everything Todd’s done since [though my copy of Outskirts is mysteriously absent from my bookshelf these days]) because my academic research and teaching were, at that point, heading more toward contemporary American photography. It was a natural evolution of my work on Charles Sheeler’s early modernist photography and the histories of photography before and after modernism. I was intrigued by the transnational histories of photography in the States after WWII and by the emergence of photo-conceptual photography of the 1960s and 1970s. But it was the New Topographics movement that really sparked a critical interest in thinking about how all these histories of photography in America added up, or not, as the case may be. So, long story short, it was the (perceived) influence on American photography of the so-called New Topographics from the 1970s onwards that has become an ongoing focus and I ‘discovered’ Todd’s work on the back this exploration.
Looking back it seems strange to think that after reading House Hunting I searched for Todd’s location and email address and sent him a short request. I thought I had the original email and have looked for it but I must have deleted it. Contacting Todd and asking to meet up to talk about his work was a big deal for me, I recall. My academic work before then had focused on dead artists and thinkers (Sheeler, Adorno, Benjamin), hence it was a change in direction and approach. There was the very real chance that Todd would say ‘no’ but I worked on the basis of ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ It was a relief when Todd replied with a a ‘yes’ and we arranged to meet at his studio in Oakland (I was actually on holiday in San Francisco).
I notice this a lot when colleagues visit my office for the first time: their eyes chase the books across the shelves, looking at what I have got arranged on there. Sitting in Todd’s studio I did the same. I found myself saying, ‘got that, got that, got that…’ and, in conversation, it turned out not only did we share a taste in books but that as ‘men of a similar age’ we were both into BMX in the early to mid-1980s. I remember we discussed the development of his work and the importance of his mentor and friend, Larry Sultan, who was pivotal in encouraging Todd to find his own voice and to pursue it. I remember saying that I wanted to show his work in the UK. I remember walking through Oakland to the BART station thinking, ‘why did I say that? How do you put in an exhibition?’
It has taken me more years than I imagined but I am very much looking forward to presenting a narrative selection of Todd’s work, chosen by Todd himself, in and now it’s dark; the first substantial presentation of Todd’s work in the UK to date.