Father Issues and Plastic Surgery Patients: The Gorgeous World of Photographer Phillip Toledano


You can call him Mr. Toledano, thank you. A photographer of “slightly odd things” since the age of 11, Phillip Toledano has a sharp eye and an even keener wit, turning his lens on phone sex operators, America as a gift shop of wartime souvenirs, and giant costumes made of plastic babies. A ten-year stint as an advertising art director has informed the aesthetic of his commercial commissions – approximately 40% of his workload – which you can see on the regular in fashion mags and the New Yorker (for example, page 38 of this week’s issue, with a stark image of a kidney delicately wrapped in a silver bow). Images from a recent project and an exclusive preview of new work after the jump.

One of Toledano’s most well-regarded fine art projects is a series titled “Days With My Father,” a photographic essay chronicling the end of his aging father’s life before his death last fall at 99 years of age. The entire piece – deeply moving without wavering into schlocky sentimentalism – is displayed online, using the internet as a medium for both artistic expression and community commentary. (The project has become something of a viral hit with over 15,000 daily visitors, 1 million page views, and a slew of viewer reactions and emotional emails personally addressed to Toledano.) He says the reaction to “Days With My Father” was unexpected, though reassuring, and jokes, “How do people not cry? Heartless bastards.”

My mum died suddenly on September 4th, 2006. After she died, I realized how much she’d been shielding me from my father’s mental state. He doesn’t have Alzheimers, but he has no short-term memory and is often lost.

I’m always amazed at my father’s love for my mum. It’s a constant force, like sunlight or gravity. She was the glue for our little family.

Sometimes, when we’re talking, my dad will stop, and sigh, and close his eyes. It’s then that I know, that he knows. About my mum. About everything.

He would have wanted people to remember that his story is a story about life. My father had no time for growing old. Just last week, on his 99th birthday, I asked him how old he thought he was. Grinning, he said, “22 and a half?”

Next up is a series of classically inspired portraits of people who have recreated themselves through plastic surgery, meant to examine the choices we make as free-willed individuals and the question of beauty – is it determined historically, by the media, or by a surgeon? Looking at the photographs, lovingly rendered on a dark background with pale makeup and pre-Raphaelite props, one has to wonder whether the subjects are revealing their true identities or removing them completely (Angelina Jolie lips and wide-set eyes make everyone look more than a little related).

See here for the complete journal of “Days with My Father,” and here for other fine art and editorial projects by Phillip Toledano, including America the Gift Shop.