We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Washington-area photographer Timothy Hyde has an exhibition at Multiple Exposures Gallery in Alexandria through March 27 .“Washington Daybreak” features a selection of images Hyde made of Washington landmarks at the first light of dawn.
Hyde, an Iowa native, spent much of his career in public affairs in D.C., but is now mostly a full-time photographer. He uses a Leica 35mm or Hasselblad medium-format digital camera, usually handheld but sometimes with a tripod. Arts Desk recently spoke with Hyde about his most recent work.
Arts Desk: What is unusual or notable about the nature of early morning light?
Timothy Hyde: Every sunrise is different, almost unique. You can shoot the same location over and over on different days and in different seasons and seem never to repeat yourself. And there is the narrative quality of sunrise. First, the faint pre-echoes with the dimmest hum of light on the horizon, gradually strengthening, building a little anticipation as you hurry to reposition your camera to take advantage of that moment when it breaks the plane and literally bursts upon the scene, announcing a new day. Then you turn 180 degrees to capture the fall of direct daybreak on the scene behind you.
Some days the eastern horizon is cloudy and the sun breaks with diffused light—red or purple or orange— and it’s impossible to predict what’s coming until it happens. The scene changes very rapidly. One tries to pre-visualize how it will look on a particular monument or building and position yourself to best advantage, but it happens so fast that the effort often fails, leading to a decision to come back the following day and try again, try with a pre-positioned angle. Then, of course, the following day the light reveals itself as something different yet again.
Arts Desk: One of your recent series consisted of images of darkness. Now you’ve got an exhibit of images taken in early daylight. Why the shift?
TH: Our human limitations are most pronounced in darkness, thus my special interest in night photography. Still, one needs to leaven this somber view with some lighter stuff. For me, that’s the buoyancy of a new day.
One can never be sure about such things, but this whole “Washington Daybreak” project feels like a kind of intermission for me, a temporary departure from my darker work—darker in both mood and fact. It seemed important to explore the obverse of what I was doing with the nighttime photography. At night, all the good stuff is in the shadows; dawn photography is all about the light. In a sense, nighttime is about the questions, dawn is about the answers. The photographs in this exhibit feel to me much more upbeat and optimistic. There are fewer doubts and fewer mysteries. I’m glad I’ve undertaken this, and will probably do more of it. But honestly, as I get older, I’m more drawn to the unanswered questions, to the ambiguities in the shadows, so I’ll probably slip back into mostly nighttime shooting.
Arts Desk: You focused on D.C. in this series. Aside from being conveniently located, what made D.C. a good subject for this kind of project?
TH: I think it was a particularly good location. What is interesting about low-light photography, night or dawn, is that it shows us new aspects of things we think we know, provides new information about the familiar. Nothing is more familiar than the iconic monuments and buildings of our Capital city. These sites have been photographed so many times that it’s almost impossible to say anything new about them. But with the selective light of daybreak one has an opportunity to look at them with fresh eyes.
Arts Desk: How did you manage to do it? Did you stake out locations and just be sure you were there at the right time?
TH: I am off before first light several days a week, and almost always have a rough plan about what I’m going to photograph that day. The window is pretty small, so there isn’t time to drive around looking for the shot. I pre-position myself in a place, usually, where I’ll have some options, but generally I know that this will be, say, a Lincoln Memorial day, or the street scene at 14th & U.
Arts Desk: What are some of your favorite images and why?
TH: One of my favorite photographs in the show is the long view of the U.S. Capitol at dawn, looking up Pennsylvania Avenue. While the capitol is the central focus of the picture, what one notices first—what dominates—are all the painted bike lanes on the pavement and complicated street signs. I’m sure all of this made sense to some traffic engineer, but to the average traveler it is all very confusing and, at best, presents an intimidating maze between the viewer and the Capitol, like so many other bureaucratic obstacle in this town between the citizens and their government.
A simpler photograph is the pre-dawn view through a conference-room window in a downtown office. The window, frame, and crooked blinds are in focus, while the traffic on L Street below is a blur of multi-colored lights. Surprisingly, this photograph gives me a sense of peace, perhaps reminding one of the pleasures of being alone in a quiet office, with one’s commute finished, carefully organizing the day ahead. This, for me, is part of Washington’s daybreak, part of our city waking up in the morning.
Arts Desk: What is your next project or location where you plan to be photographing?
TH: I recently spent a couple of weeks shooting the refugee crisis in Hungary and the Balkans, and I would like to go back and do some more work there this year. I don’t think that situation will end well. I hope to go back to western Ireland next month, and am thinking about a trip to Kolkata, India, later this year—my first.
Through March 27 at the Multiple Exposures Gallery in the Torpedo Factory Art Center #312, 105 N. Union Street, Alexandria. (703) 683-2205.