In Phillip Toledano’s new book, A New Kind of Beauty, you will find photographs of those whom have gone through extreme cosmetic surgery. The images are quite shocking, but there is also something quite unusual about them; you can see, through the sitters’ victorious stances, that they actually feel quite powerful and actually beautiful.
‘A New Kind of Beauty’ possesses an interesting aesthetic. The photographer decides to portray his subjects, not under a glamorous light, but instead in way which exudes an air of strength and power. Although the artist says that he is referencing 16th century artist Hans Holbein (which he is) I say that he is also reflecting an aesthetic that very clearly references that of Greek and Roman sculpture. I find it compelling that Toledano’s juxtaposes something so contemporary as cosmetic surgery, to something so dated. But, his line of thought makes sense.
We all know that the Greek and Romans were obsessed with beauty, perfection and youth. They found beauty in perfect young bodies, hence the many grand sculptures of young naked bodies (usually men). Their stance, for the most part, was stoic; emotion made the beauty fade away…their stance was always upright, a symbol of power and honor. Similarly, the photographer renders his sitters in poses that clearly show off their wannabe young bodies and faces (some are covered by draped robes and veils, yet another detail that references this particular stylistic period). They stand tall and emotionless, even if their highly transformed faces say otherwise. Their ‘beauty’ is fake, but it is theirs, and they are owning it.
In a way, Toledano is documenting contemporary human beauty as well as ‘admiring beauty’ in the same way the Greeks and Roman did in their time.
“We will be able to redefine what it means to look human, and I think these people are the vanguard of that type of evolution.”
However, it differs in that this kind of beauty is manufactured and maybe not so beautiful after all. The photographer wants to make sure we realize that this is our society’s standards of beauty. Whether it is actually beautiful or not, real or not, well that’s not something to fret about. It is an obvious fact that the public is eager for perfection, youth, and hypersexualized physical attributes, so here’s the outcome of the pressures to be just that.
“I wanted to make beautiful and distinguished portraits of these people. … I wanted to represent a particular part of beauty from our time. It will be very interesting to see in a few years time how I compare physically to these projected images.”