The Many Sad Faces of Mr. Toledano
Phillip Toledano was terrified of growing old. So he decided to do it as many times as possible.
This article was posted last year in the New York Times By JOSHUA SEFTEL on September 20, 2016 and has stayed with me. It is a very curious and poignant way to become connected to those who suffer and are dying.
Over a period of three years, this photographer and artist became homeless, obese, had a stroke, became an alcoholic, and got busted for insider trading. Then we watch him die — seven different ways.
Phil Toledano, a prominent Manhattan photographer had just lost his father. He wanted to know what was going to happen to him … in the future. And then he set out to find the answers.
It started subtly enough, with DNA tests and consultations with fortunetellers. Then he upped the ante: He had a makeup artist use prosthetics to transform him into a character in any number of fatalistic fantasies, so that Phil could live out and actually photograph himself experiencing every possible future he could imagine.
This transformation was made into a documentary by his friend and filmmaker and curious fellow neurotic. He asked Phil if he could follow him with his camera during this process, and he agreed. So he watched and recorded him as he became a cast of future Toledanos — homeless Mr. Toledano, obese Mr. Toledano, criminal Mr. Toledano, stroke victim Mr. Toledano, suicidal Mr. Toledano — each requiring hour after hour of meticulous preparation in hair and makeup.
When the filmmaker interviewed Phil’s wife, Carla, she was deeply worried that this exercise, and its attendant fixation on death, would make him depressed.
But Phil continued. For three more years dozens of new characters emerged, and the couple’s dining room table filled with 8×10 glossies of Phil in various stages of horrific decay. But it somehow became an extreme form of exposure therapy. Instead of tucking them away as most of us do, Phil faced his fears — really, all of our fears — head-on. He made them tangible, cataloged them, examined them. And he began to feel better.
Last year, he declared, “I’m done with the project.” When the filmmaker talked with Carla about it, she said, “Phil has changed. In a good way.”
Sure, it could just be a case of three years passing and time healing wounds. But I can’t help wondering if it might be good to stare at our greatest fears, to study our darkest possible futures. After all, if we’re going to worry, why not take a peek at exactly what we’re worried about?