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'Days With My Father': A Photographic Farewell

The photograph selected by Moby for "Project Song" i i

The photograph selected by Moby for "Project Song" Phillip Toledano hide caption

itoggle caption Phillip Toledano
The photograph selected by Moby for "Project Song"

The photograph selected by Moby for "Project Song"

Phillip Toledano

As inspiration for NPR's Project Song, Moby selected a photograph of a man with an exploding head. Stephen Merritt used an image of a man made of baby dolls. Both musicians are well-acquainted with the fantastical photography of Phillip Toledano. The photographer's website is replete with commercial and personal projects about absurd American consumerism, sexual reassignment surgery and video game obsession. It's humorous, it's dark, it's a bit eccentric.

But if you sift a bit through Toledano's website oddities, you'll discover a project that's humorous and dark like the rest of his work — but also subtle and poignant: "Days With My Father" is the visual diary that Toledano kept during his father's last years. It chronicles the struggle of a widower with memory loss, and the struggle of a son's transition from child to care-taker.

What began as an online diary was recently published as a book; the cover image was elected by readers who had been following Toledano's story. You can see an excerpt here, but the whole project can be viewed on Toledano's website.

  • "My mum died suddenly on September 4th, 2006. After she died, I realized how much she'd been shielding me from my father's mental state. He doesn't have Alzheimer's, but he has no short-term memory and is often lost. ... After a while, I realized I couldn't keep telling him that his wife had died. ... I decided to tell him she'd gone to Paris..."
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    "My mum died suddenly on September 4th, 2006. After she died, I realized how much she'd been shielding me from my father's mental state. He doesn't have Alzheimer's, but he has no short-term memory and is often lost. ... After a while, I realized I couldn't keep telling him that his wife had died. ... I decided to tell him she'd gone to Paris..."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "I asked my father to look in the mirror while I took his photograph. Now, you have to realize my dad was very handsome when he was young ... So when he looks in the mirror, he sees a man ravaged, a man no longer beautiful, and that upsets him deeply. You see, he's still vain at 98."
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    "I asked my father to look in the mirror while I took his photograph. Now, you have to realize my dad was very handsome when he was young ... So when he looks in the mirror, he sees a man ravaged, a man no longer beautiful, and that upsets him deeply. You see, he's still vain at 98."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "The other day, when he said he wanted to die, I told him that the problem was that he had exercised his entire life, and was in great shape. He looked at me, raised his finger, and said: 'Next time around, I'm going to stay in bed!' "
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    "The other day, when he said he wanted to die, I told him that the problem was that he had exercised his entire life, and was in great shape. He looked at me, raised his finger, and said: 'Next time around, I'm going to stay in bed!' "
    Phillip Toledano
  • "This is George. My dad never remembers her name, so he calls her 'The Mutt.' He says she's just like a human being. He also thinks the mutt should be in the movies, because she's so talented. Some of the genius tricks George performs are: Eating. Looking at us with a 'human expression.' Lying on the carpet."
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    "This is George. My dad never remembers her name, so he calls her 'The Mutt.' He says she's just like a human being. He also thinks the mutt should be in the movies, because she's so talented. Some of the genius tricks George performs are: Eating. Looking at us with a 'human expression.' Lying on the carpet."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "I have so many memories of him listening to opera, sketching, painting, sculpting. Although he doesn't paint anymore, he still sees. He still has the artistic impulse. ... The urge is still there, even if the physical ability is not."
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    "I have so many memories of him listening to opera, sketching, painting, sculpting. Although he doesn't paint anymore, he still sees. He still has the artistic impulse. ... The urge is still there, even if the physical ability is not."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "I asked my dad to take a picture of me. I wondered if it would show how much I love him. I'm wearing the ring my mother was wearing, the day she died."
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    "I asked my dad to take a picture of me. I wondered if it would show how much I love him. I'm wearing the ring my mother was wearing, the day she died."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "I find these scraps of writing all over the house... they are a glimpse into his mind, the disquiet he tried to hide from me ... how lost he feels."
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    "I find these scraps of writing all over the house... they are a glimpse into his mind, the disquiet he tried to hide from me ... how lost he feels."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "My mum's death has taken on a slightly absurd aspect these days. When my dad asks where she is, I still say she's in Paris ... I'll say she's running a very famous flea circus. Then I do some of the acts for him ... Oh, it makes us laugh!"
    Hide caption
    "My mum's death has taken on a slightly absurd aspect these days. When my dad asks where she is, I still say she's in Paris ... I'll say she's running a very famous flea circus. Then I do some of the acts for him ... Oh, it makes us laugh!"
    Phillip Toledano
  • "My father is very funny. ... How can you not laugh?"
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    "My father is very funny. ... How can you not laugh?"
    Phillip Toledano
  • "It's amazing. My father is so appreciative of all the love he receives. Each visit is an incredible gift, to him, and to me. As though we're both drinking deeply from the same well, for one last time."
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    "It's amazing. My father is so appreciative of all the love he receives. Each visit is an incredible gift, to him, and to me. As though we're both drinking deeply from the same well, for one last time."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "Sometimes, when we're talking, my dad will stop, and sigh, and close his eyes. It's then that I know, that he knows. About my mum. About everything."
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    "Sometimes, when we're talking, my dad will stop, and sigh, and close his eyes. It's then that I know, that he knows. About my mum. About everything."
    Phillip Toledano
  • "For the last three years, I've been waiting. Terrified that he would die when i was away. I didn't want him to go on his own ... I know it sounds odd, but I'm so very grateful for the way it happened. I feel lucky to have had these last three years. ... Now he's gone to Paris, to meet my mum."
    Hide caption
    "For the last three years, I've been waiting. Terrified that he would die when i was away. I didn't want him to go on his own ... I know it sounds odd, but I'm so very grateful for the way it happened. I feel lucky to have had these last three years. ... Now he's gone to Paris, to meet my mum."
    Phillip Toledano

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