Every picture is a piece of the inside of ourselves”. That may be the reason why Oliviero Toscani’s shoots strike so much the international public. The philosophy followed by the famous Italian photographer brings him to stand out, to be exceptional and totally different from an ordinary fashion photographer. The images Oliviero Toscani has signed for many fashion maisons (Benetton above all) or fashion magazines, the social campaigns he has promoted and the works he has been realising in the over 50 years of his career have made the tour around the world, bringing a piece of made-in-Italy talent to the most remote countries.
Photography was in his veins. His father was the first photo-journalist for the famous Italian newspaper “Il corriere della sera”, and Oliviero Toscani began to play with his first cameras at a very young age, soon showing the talent inherited from his father. After studying in Milan, he moved to Zurich were he attended photography and design courses at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung from 1961 to 1965.
In 1968, while Italy (like the rest of the world) was hit by the waves of the social revolution, the Italian photographer began to move his first important steps on the world of photographic films. Soon enough, Oliviero Toscani became a renowed synonim of original portraits of the contemporary social trends and movements, his camera becaming an artistic eye through which people can watch the world they lived in from an unusual perspective.
His talent caught the eye first of many important fashion magazines. From Vogue to Elle, from the Harper’s Bazaar to G.Q., the Italian photographer’s signature became to appear under more and more images printed on the glossy paper of the most famous international reviews. The popularity brought by these publications allowed Oliviero Toscani to reach the most important Italian (and international) fashion houses. Brands like Prenatal, Valentino, Fiorucci or Esprit choosed the Italian photographer as creative head for their promotional campaigns, and Toscani began to stand out for its strong and scandalous images.
The portrait of the supermodel Donna Jordan’s backside in a pair of Jesus Jeans hot pants, with the biblical phrase “Those who love me will follow me”, was just one of the first shocking advertisment campaigns realised by the Italian photographer. Many others followed, bringing the name of Oliviero Toscani to ever greater success, but the turning point came in 1982, when the Italian fashion group Benetton put its total trust on the new talent of Italian photography, leaving to him the reins of the creative division of the company.
Almost twenty years of collaboration which saw the Benetton group communication policy reach levels that any fashion maison could have reached before. Besides the simple promotion of the brand, Oliviero Toscani’s images were explicit and daring messages on problems and issues of the modern society; peace, tolerance and fight against social plagues were his main purpose, hidden behind the Benetton’s signature. Two nuns kissing, children from different ethnic groups holding hands, a Vietnam war’s victim cemetery, a boy dying from AIDS or a man killed by mafia. These were just a few of the most famous images that brough the Italian photographer, as well as the Italian fashion brand, to reach popularity and fame also through their social commitment.
Even after leaving the Benetton brand, Oliviero Toscani continued to shock the world with his works. One popular example is the anti-anorexia campaign that saw the too-thin model Isabelle Carol pose totally naked showing her body worn out by the disease, which history was documented in the film “Anorexia, storia di un’immagine”. The giant posters spreaded all over Milan and the other main Italian cities did not only conquered the favours of the anti-anorexia movements, but were also condemned by some people who didn’t appreciate the Italian photographer’s strong images. For that same reason, sometimes Oliviero Toscani has had to face critics and censorship, for the rawness of his images, printed as well as in TV spots.
The Italian photographer indeed has worked not only with his camera, but also using the other promotional medias, from TV to the internet. He helped realising many TV spots, ever so strong as his photos, and the Benetton group website’s birth saw his precious collaboration. The signature of Oliviero Toscani was so present in the fashion group that he even realised sportswear lines for Playlife, one the brands under the Benetton label.
In 1990, Oliviero Toscani, with the collaboration of the American graphic designer Tibor Kalman, co-founded the magazine Colors, owned partly by Benetton. “A magazine about the rest of the world”, this was the tagline of the magazine, which perfectly describes the multicultural publication. Under the supervision of the Italian fashion group, he also set up Fabrica, the Benetton Group Communications research center, in 1994. Not an academy nor a simple school, Fabrica is defined as a laboratory of creativity, where new and winning ideas come to life, changing the communication and media’s world.
The collaboration with the Italian maison, as well as the many and many other works that have marked his long career, have gained Oliviero Toscani many prizes, among which we can find the Grand Prix d’Affichage, or the Grand Prix Unesco, and even the Leone d’Oro, the award given at the Festival of Cannes, in 1989. His works were shown in the most important location, from the Biennale of Venezia, to the Triennale Museum of Milan, or even in exhibitions held all over the globe, from Brazil to Europe. The world of Italian photography even recognised him a professorship in the Roman University of La Sapienza, where he taught communication strategies to young and curious students.
His life has changed a lot, but his passion for photography has never abandoned him. Nowadays, besides portraiting the Appaloosa horses he breeds in his Tuscany’s estate, where he lives with his wife and three children producing wine and olive oil, he keeps on surprising the whole world with his innovative idead that have changed and revolutioned the concept of photography.
Oliviero ToscaniVia Pid. i Poggi, 10
Casale Marittimo – Pisa, Italy