From Kim Jong Phil



From Kim Jong Phil



From Kim Jong Phil



Days With My Father



From Days With My Father


James Baldwin wrote, “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” These words come to mind when reflecting on the work of photographer Phillip Toledano.

In the past decade, Toledano has authored five monographs, including Bankrupt (Twin Palms, 2005), Phonesex (Twin Palms, 2008), Days With My Father (Chronicle, 2010), A New Kind of Beauty (Dewi Lewis, 2011), and The Reluctant Father (Dewi Lewis, 2013). In June 2015, he will be releasing two new books with Dewi Lewi: Maybe and When I Was Six, in conjunction with his first museum retrospective, “When Man Falls” at the House of Photography, Deichtorhallen Hamburg. The exhibition, curated by Krzysztof Candrowicz for the Hamburg Triennale, will include 150 images from Toledano’s projects from the past decade.

Toledano’s work is at once charming and vulnerable, intimate and exhibitionistic, humorous and deep. He has an uncanny ability to make you squirm like you are being tickled, tiptoeing between the playful and the painful with impish ease and a masterful glee. But when you pause and draw breath, you can feel the intensity of his British wit; it is at once provocative, pristine, and profound. Toledano speaks of his life in art, which began so many years ago, long before he realized his destiny was to use the camera to unmask his soul.

Toledano recalls, “My father was an artist. He was a painter and a sculptor but I wasn’t good at any of those things. He had a big collection of books, which included a Bill Brandt book. When I was ten or eleven years old, I used to steal it and look at the naked ladies. Such an auspicious start! (Laughs.)

“Over time I stopped looking at the boobs, and started looking at the images themselves. My father was a painter, but since I couldn’t paint, I decided I would take photographs.

“We had a little conservatory in the back of the house, where I would work. I cut out backgrounds from magazines, and placed my toy figures in front of them (like David Levinthal). I had little cars and people and the scenes were incredibly exciting. I remember my mother saying they weren’t going to be good, but I thought they were kind of fantastic (my artistic delusion starting early!)

“From age twelve to my early thirties, all I took were black-and-white photographs of buildings. They were abstract architectural shapes-beautiful, but not particularly surprising. Then, a friend was going Paris for an air show and asked me to come along. I brought a camera and took some photographs; by some miracle, people managed to sneak into the images, and that opened something up. I started going to air shows and taking pictures, and I guess, in some way that was my first real project.

“At the same time, I was growing more and more dissatisfied with my career in advertising. I had tried to be a photographer in Paris at the age of 22-23, but I didn’t have the courage for it. I moved to New York, and began working in advertising. It was a good job, and I was reasonably good at it, but I always felt that I wanted to do something more with my life. The last job I had in advertising was utterly miserable, and I’m thankful that it was so awful-it made me commit to trying something totally different. If it hadn’t been so bloody awful, I’d probably still be there, writing ads for the today sponge and going to my Hamptons house on the weekends to drink Goldschlager.

“I never went to art school. It was advertising that exposed me to everything: art direction, typography, photograph, design, film, editing. Advertising taught me how to be brutally clear with my ideas. How to ruthlessly burn the fat away. It prepared me for the artist I am now: a conceptual artist.

“After my last advertising job, I gave myself three months to put a portfolio together and get an agent. It was an exciting time. No one was telling me what to do, if it was good or bad, except for myself. There was an expansive (as opposed to finite) horizon, and it was unbelievably thrilling.

“When I was an Associate Creative Director, photo reps would come in to show me their photographers. They had to be nice to me, because I could hire their photographers, so I’d abuse my position and show them my own work (no doubt to some serious Olympian eye rolling) and get their cards

“Once my portfolio was ready, I called up an agent I liked-I remember walking over with my book, listening to the Darth Vader Imperial March, to pump myself up…

“When I started being a photographer, I had no idea what kind of photographer I wanted to be—I knew that I wanted to work on my own stuff, that I wanted to say something about the world, but I didn’t know what, or how.

“Bit by bit, I realized I wanted to be an artist.

“I think the death of my parents was a final step in my evolution. In a peculiar way it freed me. If they were alive I wouldn’t have done the projects I have done in the past eight years: Kim Jong Phil. A New Kind of Beauty. Days With My Father. America The Gift Shop. Phone Sex. I remember talking to my father about Phone Sex and he said, ‘What is that?’ And I explained: ‘Men call women and talk dirty on the the phone. He couldn’t believe it was possible.

“I’m working on two new books that will be published by Dewi Lewis in June 2015: When I was Six and Maybe. They are both very personal. They are the final chapters of an eight year journey since my mum and dad died.

“When my mother died suddenly, I realized that the idea that I was in charge of my destiny was an illusion. I became apprehensive about the sudden, sharp turns life might have in store for me, so I decided to confront them, and that’s what Maybe is about. Confronting fate, making the darkest possible turns in my future real, and by making them real, removing the fear.

“I took a DNA test, that told me what illnesses I’m likely to get. Then, I went to fortune tellers and palm readers, read insurance company statistics, and looked at the things I am most frightened of. I found a guy who did prosthetics and he would take 4-5 hours turning me into a future version of myself.

When I Was Six, is a book about my sister, who died when I was six, and she was nine. When I was clearing out my parent’s apartment, I found a box full of her things that I’d never seen before. After she died, we never spoke about her again really, so that box was very hard to open.

“I don’t have memories of my life after she died for the next few years, other than a peculiar fascination with astronomy, and space-I suppose it was a way of being far away. So the other half the book are the imagined landscapes that saved me, and the other half are still-life photographs of her things.

“It was a very hard project to do. I’d go into the studio, take photos, cry, go to sleep. Wake up, take more photos. It was exhausting. To dig so deep.

“If art isn’t personal, what’s the point? I thing all art is about the artist, it’s just a question of how visible the artist is. For me, lately, I’ve been very visible. Art has been a way of having a conversation with myself. Of understanding things. And if these conversations make sense to other people, move them, help them, then I’m both amazed and grateful.”

Photographs courtesy of Phil Toledano
Curated by Miss Rosen



 A New Kind of Beauty



From A New Kind of Beauty



Phone Sex



From Phone Sex



From The Reluctant Father



From The Reluctant Father