(Warning: This post contains nudity.)
Phillip Toledano’s photos in his series “A New Kind of Beauty” have many traits of a traditional portrait, but his subjects are far from average. Toledano documents people who have gone through radical reconstructive plastic surgery.
“In 50 or 100 years time, I think humanity won’t look like it does today because of technology. … We will be able to redefine what it means to look human and I think these people are the vanguard of that type of evolution,” Toledano said about the project.
The evolution of the series was somewhat serendipitous and evolved through both social media and traditional word of mouth. During an assignment to photograph a man who’d had multiple plastic surgery procedures, Toledano befriended the man’s press assistant. Through that friendship on Facebook, he noticed Allanah, a transgendered woman who had also gone through multiple surgeries. He photographed her, and she in turn let him know about other people for the project. It grew into a larger network of friends of friends.
Inspired by the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger, whose 16th-century portraits are considered to be some of the most realistic of that era, Toledano’s images are in many ways a nod to Holbein.
“I wanted to make beautiful and distinguished portraits of these people. … I wanted to represent a particular part of beauty from our time,” Toledano said.
Toledano said reaction to the project has been mixed—and not unexpected.
“Usually there are two kinds of feedback: the expected ‘Holy shit! These people look crazy,” which definitely isn’t the point of the work. … it’s too easy in art to take a group or subgroup of people and point and laugh. I’ve never been interested in that. And then there are hopefully some people who understand the point I’m making about the direction we’re headed, which is what I’m trying to do. … I’m not naïve; I know people will look at the work and be taken aback, but I hope they can work through that and see the point I’m trying to make.”
“A New Kind of Beauty” is the second work in a trilogy Toledano has created about mortality. The first installment and subsequent book Days With My Father was about taking care of his elderly dad. For the final installment, Toledano is focusing on his own mortality. Using DNA testing, fortune tellers, and prosthetics, Toledano is creating images about who he is and what kind of person he could possibly become.
“It will be very interesting to see in a few years time how I compare physically to these projected images,” he said.
The book A New Kind of Beauty is available for purchase.