phillip toledano: days with my father.

It takes a real artist to know when something is special enough to simply be documented, and not necessarily explored or extrapolated on. To give something room to breathe and hold it’s own based only on the fact that you’ve found the strength to share it. I don’t take it lightly when artists take their most personal moments and reveal them to me, trusting that hopefully the cycle of creator and receiver will nurture us both. There’s something delicate and tenuous in the act of letting your story go in the desire that it will mean as much to a stranger as it does to you.

That’s why my gratitude and love goes out to a favourite photographer of mine, and one I’ve posted about before, Phillip Toledano. In his latest project he’s taken photography, memoir, chronicle, and diary and evolved them together into a beautifully honest photographic journey. In “Days With My Father”, he tells the story of living with his father’s dementia following his mother’s sudden death.

Toledano writes simply and thoughtfully about his father’s condition, in ways both light-hearted and heart-breaking. Its loveliness is borne of its grace and truth; he’s not layering drama or trying to make anything seem like what it’s not. He’s sharing without adding any extra gild or lacquer, and sometimes that’s the hardest path of all.

My favourite of the series, the one that made me look inside myself the most, is the photo below. In the story with it, Toledano writes “I have so many memories of him listening to opera, sketching, sculpting. Although he doesn’t paint anymore, he still sees. He still has the artistic impulse. He was admiring the sunset, saying that he could make a ‘whole series’ of paintings around those wonderful colours… The urge is still there, even if the physical ability is not.”

The thought of this really cut to my core. And I wonder know what it would be like to have the will to write but not able to type. Or to know that inside myself I was holding so many wonderful words and could no longer remember how to open my hands and set them down.

Having read the whole story, I feel stillness and solitude. The kind of mini-metamorphosis you rise from after you’ve just had an experience that’s led to realization. My parents are still younger, but one day they will be old. One day I will be old. I see myself taking part in a loop, both familiar and alien, of childhood and manhood, of life and death, and of the parent becoming the child. I see myself on both sides of Toledano’s story. Maybe it’s also because I’m the son to a father, and perhaps one day I will have my own son. I wonder if my parents will ever need me in this way, and if I were to grow old will someone be there to give me as much love as Phillip Toledano gives his Dad.

Via Tim Yu @ Cool Hunting


  1. lapleinelune says:

    I wish I taken such photos in the last days of my grandmother. It’s sheer pity, but boy does it make you feel thankful of having the presence of people who love you unconditional.

  2. Valerie Elder says:

    Moving piece of writing. Interesting as well in a personal context. You don’t have to be demented to need somebody, I know, but perhaps being just a little demented warrants attention too.

  3. Carla Bergermann says:

    Jeremy…..that was amazing….I work everyday with people who live in the world that Phillips father lives in. I try my best to get to know them and understand how they are feeling. I loved how Phillip used pictures to tell his story. It was wonderful to see how he changed from telling his father that his wife had died (and forcing his father to go through the death over and over again) to playing along with the idea that she was gone on a trip or to the store or whatever (because that meant that she hadn’t “left” him….alone.) I just wish that more families would catch on to this.

    I think I’m going to take my camera to work tomorrow…..:)

  4. RE: your fear of wanting to write but being physically unable:

    NASA has just developed a special “silent speech” software that eventually will probably aid handicapped people with just that…never fear, the future is here!

  5. an incredible photo essay – glad you pointed the way to it


  1. […] felt it very clearly with Phil Toledano’s “Day With My Father”, and I feel it again now with Richard […]

  2. […] “Bankrupt” to one of the most beautiful projects I’ve ever seen – his exquisite “Days With My Father” – I literally never know what Toledano will come up with […]

  3. […] Shape + Colour, who does a much better job talking about it than I […]

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