Though he shot it 10 years ago, Phillip Toledano’s 2004 photography series “Hope & Fear” still rings true a decade later as a diagnosis of our collective fears in 21st-century America. While the artist’s recent work, though highly stylized, is mostly documentary, “Hope & Fear” presents a nightmarish fantasy though its elaborate costuming and staging. In each surreal portrait, the sitter becomes subsumed in a substance or object that represents a specific societal problem or common anxiety taken to the extreme.
In one piece where a slender woman is covered in a sort of cloak made of life-like breasts, Toledano invites us to think of the ways female bodies are hyper-sexualized by the media. In another piece, a woman peeks out from beneath a burqa made from paper McDonald’s bags — a piece that could either be interpreted as commentary on the ever-presence of consumerism, right-wing mistrust of Islam or perhaps neither or both. Toledano insists all the costuming for this series was built in real life, no Photoshop tricks involved. Though his photography is highly suggestive, it’s open-ended enough to be interpreted differently by each viewer.