Photo: Phillip Toledano
It’s always great to come across stuff that connects with something you’ve been struggling with or thinking about yourself. I have recently been enjoying the work of American photographer Phillip Toledano, whose work has great range but at the same time tremendous consistency of style and approach, always with a strong conceptual core. The photograph above comes from his series “A New Kind of Beauty” – photographs of people who have undergone plastic surgery. Toledano did this series at the same time as he was taking the photographs of his dying father, which were published as “Days With My Father”, and in an interview with Jonathan Blaustein reveals that the series were thematically connected: the approaching death of his father, and the death or aging-avoidance involved in plastic surgery.
One of the many interesting points in the interview, for me at least, is the importance Baustein’s ascribes to the fact that in the New Kind of Beauty series Toledano portrays his subjects without criticism and with humanity. The portrait above is beautifully lit of course – reminiscent of a Caravaggio perhaps – and this, together with the posing, allows the photograph to refer beyond itself and imply a comparison with classical portraits in that genre. Brilliantly executed, but above all, without implied sneering or condescension.
My second inspiration of the day comes from watching the short film for Andrew Zuckerman’s book project Wisdom. In it he interviews a wide range of actors, artists, musicians and politicians on a pre-selected range of issues. The finished book is interesting. Zuckerman takes the view that the uniform lighting set-up he uses, together with the white seamless background, removes distracting detail and focuses us on the subjects, while implying some kind of universality to what they say. Personally, I like environmental portraiture precisely because it locates the subject in a setting which adds something to our understanding of them. Be that as it may, the film is great, and a full length version on DVD comes with the book. One of my favourites from among the interviewees is the painter/photographer Chuck Close. Apart from his comment that “inspiration is for amateurs”, which features in the clip, I also cheered his remark that “far more interesting than problem solving is problem creation”. Enjoy.