BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY, September, 2010
Phillip Toledano — Diane Smyth
Phillip Toledano's latest project, A New Kind of Beauty, looks at the new physiognomies created through extreme plastic surgery. His first subject, Allanah, came to hm via a friend, and over the next two years found another 14 subjects, one person leading to another. He hopes to photograph four or five more and turn the project into a book, but what he's shot already is going on show at the Klompching Gallery in New York this month (09 September to 29 October), printed at 5ft high. The images are unsparing, especially at this larger-than-life size, but they're not critical, dispassionately presenting people who could all too easily be mocked as freaks. As in another earlier project, Phonesex, portraits of the operators who worked XXX chat lines, Toledano has taken a commedably non-judgmental tack.
"I think they're really fascinating — we're looking at a new stage of human evolution," he says. "Twenty years ago, getting your tongue pierced or having a full arm tattoo was considered outrageous, but now they're commonplace, and perhaps the same thing will happen with plastic surgery. Tom Ford [the fashion designer and film director] has made some extremely interesting comments on plastic surgery and the post-human, which is exactly what I've been thinking about. Perhaps we could even say a new species of human is evolving, the Homo Plasticus."
Some of his subjects weren't interested in looking natural, others merely embodying an extreme form of contemporary conventions of beauty — large breasts, big cheekbones, plump lips and wrinkle-free skin. But all are more than happy with how they look, and for Toledano, one of the biggest challenges was persuading them not to strike a pose. He was aiming for dignified, honest portraits instead. using a black background to emphasise his subjects alone, and taking three or four hours to shoot them with three lighrs and a Contax 645. Used to seeing themselves in more glamorous guises, some of his subjects didn't like what they saw, and even turned him down when he offered them a print
"They were disappointed that they didn't look sexier," he says. "That made me very sad. I guess people have a specific way of looking at themselves. When I photographed my father [for his last project, Days With My Father, capturing his dad towards the end of his life] it was the same thing — he didn't like his pictures because he was used to seeing photographs from the 1950's when he was a Hollywood actor. But they all said they understood why I was doing it."