I first interviewed photographer Phillip Toledano back in 2007 for a feature we did on his series of people wearing elaborate body suits – suits made out of things like baby dolls, guns and even breasts. It wasn’t just the body suit of breasts that caught my attention, all of Toledano’s work is based on very clever ideas. His imagery is skillfully crafted too; often incorporating restrained use of color and minimal lighting to set a dark yet approachable mood. He’s a unique talent and I’ve enjoyed following his work over the years.
When I saw Toledano’s series of images he did for the New York Times Magazine article What’s a Bailed-Out Banker Really Worth a few days ago I had to get in touch and find out about this new shoot. Toledano is traveling through Asia at the moment so I really appreciate him taking the time to answer a few questions to share with us.
You seem to be full of great ideas, how did you and/or the editors come up with the concepts for this series?
Generally, a magazine will send me the article, I’ll think up a few ideas, we’ll have a chat, and then more often than not, I’ll shoot what I came up with. So for the Times, they sent me the article. I read it, and then proposed some ideas. It seemed apparent to me from the outset that the photographs should be large in scale – the images should be overwhelmingly bursting with money. Most of the ideas lived (mountains of cash, man looking in the fridge, pockets full of cash, shoveling through money) they came back with a few thoughts of their own – snow angel, and the ‘jaws’ swimming shot. So in this case, it was a little more of collaboration.
How did you create these images?
I try and do as much as possible in camera, and these shots are no exception. Pretty much everything is real – whatever retouching there was just cleaning up. So I really have to take off my cap to my crack set designing squad (we are rocket science) they ordered $30,000 dollars of fake money, and glued it onto set paper. From there, we could just mold it into various shapes for various shots, and then we’d sprinkle loose bills on the ground, to fill in. In terms of lighting, it’s not very complicated really. I never tend to use more than 3, maybe 4 lights…an octobank and a couple of grids. The octobank is usually the key light, with the grids giving a little bit of kick and some tasty highlights.
You seem to have a signature “Phil Toledano” look, do you do much post-production in these images, if so can you describe your general approach?
It really depends, but there’s not much post that happens, as I said. If I have any kind of look, I suspect that it might be the ideas that create the look, rather than the lighting. Oh, and I suppose if I were to generalize about how I light, I tend to prefer not TOO much light – I usually avoid white backgrounds like the plague. Why? I have no idea.
Since our interview back in late 2007 you’ve created so many new and successful projects, what are you working on now?
A portrait series called ‘A new kind of beauty.’ It’s photographs of people who’ve re-created themselves through plastic surgery. Now that we have the technological means to re-invent ourselves, what choices do we make? This series will probably be done in about 4-5 months, although I am toying with a sculptural component now.
I’m also working on a project called ‘Kim Jong Phil’ I’m interested in what happens when patriotism crosses the line in America and becomes propaganda. It’s oil paintings and bronze sculpture. This project is going to take a little longer, because I’m having the paintings and sculpture made in china, so there’s a whole back and forth that has to happen.