Book Review: Maybe by Phillip Toledano
By Frances Molina
In 2006, following the sudden death of his mother, and again in 2010, after witnessing his father’s miserable struggle with dementia, photographer Phillip Toledano had what was arguably an existential crisis. Plagued by the unknown changes and challenges the future might hold, Toledano set out to create a portfolio of fears, realized in prosthetics and staged portraits in Maybe.
A catalog of uncanny and at time horrifying photographs, Maybe is Toledano’s attempt to placate and, in his words, “exorcise” his fear of any number of futures - unfortunate or otherwise - that could very well become his reality. Nearly unrecognizable under heavy layers of prosthetics and sporting various wigs, Toledano transforms himself and transports himself into a procession of future selves.
He is a white-collar criminal, a lonely miser, a dementia patient at the mercy of a nurse, a spiritual guru with bad hair, a New York socialite with a plastic face. He is a hapless office drone and an aging creep grinding on women in a nightclub. He is homeless and alcoholic. He is obese. He is dead, having cut his own throat in a bathtub.
Accompanying the photographs are copies of Toledano’s DNA readings, his astrological chart, various images of unnamed biological cells and chemical structures, and even a rudimentary autopsy report of “himself” post-suicide. Gathered from his own research and from various meetings with palm readers, astrologists, and numerologists, these items reveal the lengths Toledano went to construct a viable image of his future and the incredible depths of his existential dread.
While it’s difficult to grapple with Toledano’s privilege (among his worst fears are ending up a millionaire socialite, or winding up in a stable salaried job that countless people would covet), Maybe is an honest meditation on the very human, and arguably very universal, desire for control and fear of change, of death, and of decay. And although Toledano may not be able to precisely predict his future, he was at least granted glimpses into a life - or several lives - that he would do anything to avoid. In an interview with NPR, Toledano explained which photo of his “future self” scares him the most. “For me it’s the man in the office,” he says, “Because what does it mean if I’m in an office? It means I’ve failed as an artist”.