The Photo That Inspired Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’

“It feels like a memory...the mood of a day without the specifics,” said Spike Jonze of the photographer Todd Hido’s Untitled #2653 (2000) in an interview for New York Magazine. The dreamlike image of the back of a girl’s head set against a hazy forest was a source of inspiration for Jonze’s latest film, Her (2013), a sci-fi romance in which a middle-aged divorcé, “Theodore Twombly” (played by Joaquin Phoenix), falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system, “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson)—an approximation of an emotionally and intellectually evolved version of Apple’s Siri.  

It’s easy to imagine how Hido’s wistful photograph could have conjured the atmosphere for a film that explores one man’s fantasy and longing. Its soft-focus background and warm colors find parallels in the aesthetic world of Jonze’s movie, which is set in the near-future, but laced with nostalgic overtones.  

Hido is a master of the cinematic in photography, producing images that feel uncannily familiar but point to mysterious narratives, at once intimate and voyeuristic. The head in Untitled #2653 seems to float, almost disembodied, her blond hair blending into its surroundings. It is a warm, tactile, and absorbing image, full of ambiguity—the subject’s identity, place, and time are all unknowns—allowing viewers to project their imagination onto the subject, much like Jonze’s “Samantha.”

In addition to photographing anonymous, solitary figures in intimate situations, Hido also produces images of quiet, snow-covered landscapes and suburban scenes, all with his signature soft-focus effect, created by editing and manipulating negatives together. “I shoot sort of like a documentarian, but I print like a painter,” he has said. Endlessly intriguing and mysterious, Hido’s evocative images are full of narratives that are up to the viewer to determine.

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