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Book Review: Maybe


Book Review Maybe By Phillip Toledano Reviewed by George Slade When we are young, our parents may project upon us and imagine what we might become as adults. I remember a Mad magazine comic strip on this topic, in particular one in which parents, watching their child tear around the dining room, envision a track star.

MaybeBy Phillip Toledano
Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2015.
 
Maybe
Reviewed by George Slade

Maybe.
Photographs by Phillip Toledano.
Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport, England, 2015. 76 pp., 37 color illustrations, 7x10".


When we are young, our parents may project upon us and imagine what we might become as adults. I remember a Mad magazine comic strip on this topic, in particular one in which parents, watching their child tear around the dining room, envision a track star. The strip traveled into the future to show that headlong, juvenile eagerness resulting in a suited businessman lustfully chasing a woman (secretary, administrative assistant, intern?) around a desk. We become the person we are meant to become, regardless of interventions.

Phillip Toledano ends his recent book with a provocative comment. After describing all the tests and scenarios he undertook, all the prosthetics, acting lessons, DNA tests, and actuarial tables he utilized in an effort to envision his own future, he relates the following revelation. Concluding his afterword he writes: “Guided by my research, I made images. And something extraordinary happened. The work transformed. From art, to an exorcism.” And? Then? What about that exorcism? That extraordinary event? Say more! Talk about a cliff-hanger.

MaybeBy Phillip ToledanoDewi Lewis Publishing, 2015.

The only clue, perhaps, is that the next spread, the book’s final pages, shows a galaxy, jillions of stars pinpointed across the pages. And an oversized arrow plopped down on the left side, perhaps, if such precision is feasible with a symbolic instrument this large, indicating one dot in the display, perhaps a dot that signifies our whole existence within the universal scheme of things. We don’t amount to much, it seems.

MaybeBy Phillip ToledanoDewi Lewis Publishing, 2015.

In my way of looking at this book, that’s about all I’m left with — not much, except a vague appreciation of the work Toledano underwent to create these hypothetical selfies, accompanied by a sense that, like the arrow in the final spread, the imaginative instrument is too ungainly to produce anything conclusive. He does, quite impressively, transform himself from scenario to scenario, not unlike Cindy Sherman does in her Untitled Film Stills, or Jerome Hill does in the fragments of possible future lives he enacts in his autobiographical Film Portrait from 1972. But, finally, toward what end? (Greg Crewdson’s lavish productions come to mind here.)

MaybeBy Phillip ToledanoDewi Lewis Publishing, 2015.

One major frustration emerges from the design of the book. It’s another hand-sized volume (10x7 inches in this case — a slightly larger hand than most), a modest, intimate trim size very effectively employed in many contemporary books. In Maybe’s case, however, the design goes awry and further compromises an already thin premise. The small, narrow design renders the gutter as disproportionately deep. As a result, nearly ten of Toledano’s self-projections are murdered, or mortally wounded, by the gutter’s heedless, shadowy maul. Unless you feel like forcing the book open beyond its limits.

MaybeBy Phillip ToledanoDewi Lewis Publishing, 2015.

We all dream of our futures. Rarely do we have the chance to play them out then rewind and edit. The fantasy aspect of this quest is common to us all, but the opportunity to explore the future in such depth and construct a sequence of theoretical scenes like this is a privilege of the well-heeled — whose lives, as it turns out, aren’t much bigger than those of any of the other 7.4 billion people sharing our planet at the moment.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant. He can be found online at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/

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