Phil Toledano calls himself a "photographic crab. I want to come at everything sideways," he explains. He's not kidding, judging from his portfolio, which is rife with subjects shot from odd angles, often as if the camera is peering around a corner or from behind a door. "I like my pictures to be unfinished sentences," he says.
The intent is to impart a sense of mystery to his work, which is evident in a compelling personal series called "Bankrupt." Simply lit with existing artificial light, the documentary-style pictures eerily capture faint visages of the previous lives of abandoned office spaces. One shot features a room crowded with piled chairs, resembling a mass grave; another happens upon a cubicle, where the only trace of its former inhabitant is a party snapshot of three women, still pegged to the corkboard. Although every shot was found, he emphasizes that "most of my photography is created." Massive preparation goes into nailing every picture, a lesson he says he learned from photographer Platon, who shot a campaign for him when Toledano had been an agency creative. The Tufts English literature grad spent almost a decade as an art director at New York agencies like Fallon, Berlin Cameron, and TBWAChiatDay. He entered commercial photography professionally only last year, at the age of 33, although he's been shooting since he was 12.
London-born Toledano's influences span from Andreas Gursky to Nadav Kander, yet the bold graphical qualities of his photographs reveal uncanny parallels to the paintings of his father, Edward, whose work hangs in the Smithsonian and the Tate. This fascination with shape and abstracted forms is evident in Toledano's architectural and airshow projects, as well as a sweeping image of Shea Stadium that appears in an ad for The Family Center. Organic subjects are no less fascinating, as in editorial for hipster auto mag Carl's Cars, and ads for Jack Spade and Ad Age. In the latter, an office worker is almost entirely obscured from view, save for her pink arms jutting out from behind a massive column. While all the photographs reflect Toledano's off-kilter POV, they're cleanly composed and, in a way, straightforward and simple. "I think I have a reductionist point of view," he reflects. "Because that's how I feel about ideas. After doing advertising for a while, I realized that my ideas used to be club-sandwich ideas. Eventually, I realized that really great ideas are the simple ones, things you can describe in one sentence. I feel the same way about photography. It's a paradox, because the pictures have to be singular, yet mysterious at the same time. Not so singular that they're uninteresting, but enough so that they draw you in and captivate, so that the sentences are still unfinished."