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Interviews | February 20, 2016

Oliviero Toscani

Versatile and eclectic, Oliviero Toscani is a label-free creative force. He is more than a photographer; he is a master of photography. He has given birth to nonconformist advertising campaigns for a number of fashion brands, and every time he works on a shoot he wears his red round glasses

words  Paola Medori

New styles, new behaviours, different trends. After so many years in the industry, which are the subjects you love to photograph the most?

I only shoot human beings; I don’t photograph landscapes, places or anything else. My subjects are only the bodies or the faces of those who catch my attention: the human being evolves, just like our society.

Are you a purist of photography or are you open to the digital era and to the use of those types of softwares that “adjust” images?

To me photography is a means and not an end, just like a pair oh shoes that I wear when I walk. I can’t describe myself as a purist, and technology has always allowed us to adjust images. Photographing is about communicating; it is not about the satisfaction of going to the lab in order to develop images. I think that all these details are just a self-celebration of beginners.

You have followed your father’s footsteps, as he was the first photo reporter of Corriere della Sera, the main Italian newspaper. How has journalism changed through time?

Back in the past photojournalism was an essential tool. Nowadays, with the use of television and the Internet we travel at a different speed. The photojournalist doesn’t exist anymore. What really matters is being able to be a storyteller.

What do you want to communicate through your photography?

I want my work to be a historic documentation of the human condition. For this reason, I talk about human problems through my images. Many of my colleagues who take themselves too seriously don’t do reportage, they only focus on aesthetics. They are locked into photography purism, and they keep discussing whether digital is better than film. I am not part of it.

Glasses have always characterized your look. Was it hard to choose the perfect frame?

I always wear the same frame: I found it in America many years ago. The model is from the Twenties, and it was given to those who didn’t have enough money. I got a pair for only $6 in a shop on Canal Street. Then I went to a photo lab and I dyed them with some aniline red. They became the glasses that followed me ever since.

Which characteristics does a frame need to have in order to catch the eye?

One needs glasses to improve their vision, not to call people’s attention, so they should be as simple as possible. They should have a clean design and be light, so they won’t bother you. Each one of us picks the most comfortable shape for his or her own face. I surely don’t wear them to enhance my look. Those who wear fancy frames are out of fashion. Generally speaking, people who follow trends are out of trends, because they are copying something that has already been made by someone else. Being fashionable is not a sign of creativity.

You have designed a collection of glasses in collaboration with Aspesi 1910. Would you like to talk about it?

Aspesi 1910 is a classic Milanese eyewear store. I have known its owner for many years, and we decided to undertake a collaboration together. The whole collection is about one single frame: it’s the same round frame that was chosen by both Andy Warhol and I myself. Andy Warhol kept the original white transparent glasses, while I decided to dye them. They are the same glasses that Woody Allen, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation wore during the 50/60s. I don’t wear any other frame.

You have also picked some peculiar characters for the advertising campaign of the collection…

I have picked some very famous testimonials from the past and from the present, like Lenin, Bin Laden, Marilyn Monroe, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro.

From where do you take inspiration?

I don’t follow any particular trend or source of inspiration. I always listen to my inner voice. I don’t look for ideas. I think that those who look for them don’t have any, and they are desperate because of this reason. Those who look for ideas too badly end up damaging themselves.

Do you think that provocation is necessary?

Provocation is positive. It’s a way to stimulate creative and original reactions.

One last question: what do you do in your free time?

What is free time? I work. Then in my Tuscany villa I breed horses and I make wine and oil. But most importantly, I have twelve grandchildren, and I see them often. During summer time we all gather at my house: they love riding horses and going to the beach or to the movies. When the holiday season is over, I am always very tired.