scribbling in the dark - photographer's talks: scribbling in the dark - LOOK3 Toledano 2009

The scribbing in the dark series is a group of personal reflection writings on photography gatherings and slideshows. My notes are scribbled quickly in a tiny notebook, usually in a darkened room, so I ask in advance that you read the words below as my own recollections.  


scribbling in the dark - 

Phillip Toledano at LOOK3 Masters Talk 

40 year old London born, NYC dwelling, son of French Moroccan mother photographer Phillip Toledano presented a piece called Phonesex, Bankruptcy and Other Odd Topics in an accent that just won't quit. For ten years Phillip worked in advertising as an art director, and is well known in that field as the man who came up with the "Blue" in Jet Blue. 

Self-taught as a photographer, he is a person of ideas and his experience in the field taught him how to hone these ideas. As an art director, Phillip says, you have to not only have ideas, but you have to know how to shepherd them. For Phillip, photographic ideas come and often stay around in his head, clamoring away for some 4 or 5 months. Often it is only when he decides to discuss them out loud that he discovers - usually half way through the discussion - if the ideas are in fact interesting enough to pursue. 

One such idea was to photograph some of the individuals who work as phone sex operators. He had been thinking about the things in society that are in plain view, but remain hidden. Phillip decided to place an ad on craigslist, offering $100 for the released permission, the time and opportunity to photograph phone sex workers at home, often in the rooms where they worked. Weeks of email correspondence usually passed before the day of the shoot. Always, Phillip was upfront about his reasons for photographing and his desire to create a book of the images. He says that when people believe in the integrity of what you are doing, they will help you. The people in the photos wrote briefly about themselves, allowing the viewer to have a little more insight into this exploration. 

During the making of the series, ( Phillip was surprised to learn that many of the workers felt like their job was a mutually beneficial experience, that they believed that it helped the caller, but also that it allowed the worker to discover many things about him or herself. A job that attracts people from all walks of life, sometimes when Phillip arrived, a very Norman rockwell form of existence was taking place around the home.  

Stylistically the images from Bankruptcy are quiet and empty, and differ from those in Phonesex. Phillip says that he allows the project to inform the style in which the piece is shot. By giving the superintendents of buildings that had been home to offices that had gone bankrupt after the dotcom failures, Phillip gained short-term access to the spaces that he wanted to show. Here Phillip could explore the office remains and graveyards, the piles of books, chairs, and personal affects left behind when an office closed. Often these items were there just briefly, cleaned up and disappeared when another company took over. What he found were what he calls "signs of life, interrupted." ( 

In the bankruptcy series, we see a photo of 2 pencils stuck into the soft acoustic material of a drop ceiling, and Phillip says he thinks of this as a more of a portrait of the person who threw the pencils than if he could have photographed the person himself. He feels the worker's frustration, his disdain for the job, his anger. We see a photo of 3 women tacked to a bulletin board, and Phillip muses that it was left as a statement, sort of a 'Kilroy was here.' We see a single sock, revealed from the furniture's removal, and he imagines that maybe that was the sock of the man who went to the gym everyday during lunch, and that the day the sock went missing was the day everything started to fail in the office.  

Phillip's “America The Gift Shop” ( is his collection of souvenirs that he thinks American foreign policy in the Bush regime would sell if they had a giftshop. These items vary from a snowglobe (Cheney shredding secret documents) to t-shirts (I WAS RENDERED TO A SECRET PRISON AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT) to a Choc and Awe chocolate bar. Phillip says "...all my work is socio-political in nature. I’m interested in what’s right in front of us (or me), and I think everything I work on is personal — it’s just different levels of “personal..."