"You have to provoke interest!" Interview with photographer Oliviero Toscani



With the newly founded division "Arte Generali" the Italian insurer wants to become the most attractive in its field. The testimonial of the bizarre new campaign is the renowned Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan - developed and shot by Italian star photographer Oliviero Toscani. In our interview the man who created beautiful yet provoking campaigns such as for Benetton talks about his new project, the relationship between art and business, and why he detests advertising agencies.

Culture Shifts: Buongiorno, Sig. Toscani. I just watched the campaign video. My first thought: What was working with Maurizio Cattelan like?

Oliviero Toscani: Maurizio is a great guy, he is an artist but very shy. You have to understand and appreciate his mentality, his way of thinking, his way of moving. But all went well, we’re becoming friends. The best friendships are those you make by working.

CS: Can you describe the collaboration with Generali?

OT: It’s a project. I do not collaborate with Generali in a full-time collaboration. They asked me to take care of the campaign of Arte Generali, the insurance of art. And I came up with this concept and produced the pictures and the video. When they need to do a campaign or communication, they call me.

CS: You created the Arte Generali campaign all on your own, didn’t you?

OT: Yes, everything. The idea, the concept, Maurizio Cattelan, the jumping, the logo and the copy. I spoke with Giovanni Liverani (CEO Generali Deutschland and global sponsor of Arte Generali), he is a particularly creative and interesting person. If you have an intelligent client it’s much easier to come up with an intelligent campaign. If you got a stupid client or one of those marketing managers, you don’t get that far.

"I’m my own art director, I’m the agency."

CS: You don’t really like advertising firms – or its art directors?

OT: What art directors? Who are they? They are people who do nothing. They can’t write, they can’t take pictures, they need other people to do that. I create the images and the thinking. I create the images I imagine with the help of photography. I’m my own art director, I’m the agency.

CS: As a photographer you’ve always worked with companies …

OT: Yes, and in the end it’s me, that takes a picture of the concept I developed for the company beforehand. Normally you tell a photographer what kind of picture to take and everything is set. Advertising agencies want to produce the photograph they want. That’s not my thing. I’m not that kind of photographer. A photographer is someone who takes pictures with the camera. I take pictures with my brain, with my creativity – and only then with a camera.

CS: Would you say artists and creatives are becoming more and more important for corporate entities?

OT: Big companies are always made by creative people. So, these financial managers or marketing managers are not good for the economy and for the development of society. You need creative people in companies more and more because they take you further on. Creative people with a subversive, courageous and revolutionary mentality. You have to go against the rule of marketing! Because the people in there don’t produce a better society.

CS: Looking at some of your most famous campaigns, one notices, that as a photographer you were always coming up with new ideas …

OT: I have been doing that all my life. It is an experiment. You have to experiment all the time.

CS: But if you experiment, you can fail.

OT: Yes! But the only one who really fails is the one who gives up. Otherwise it’s just a moment of your experiments. It goes up and down.

CS: And when you fail you need an insurance.

OT: Insurance is always about accidents, tragedies, life and death, sickness … now finally this insurance is about art – that is untouchable.

CS: Do you collect art?

OT: No. I don’t collect anything. I must say that ownership and property bothers me too much. You have to take care, you have to archive. Possession absorbs a lot of time and it has a lot to do with the past. You can’t own anything that is in the future. It’s not comfortable. Even just having something in your pocket is inconvenient. I like to have my pockets empty.

CS: But you own a vineyard and olive groves.

OT: Yes, but that has nothing to do with my work. I never had a studio or the kind of equipment that photographers usually have.

CS: You have a camera?

OT: Yes, I have a camera. I just bought a new one, the other one was 15 years old.

"If you don’t provoke you might as well stay at home and sleep."

CS: It’s immensely important that artists remain free in their work. Has there ever been a project, where a client told you what to do and you stopped working on it?

OT: The client has no professional importance in my work. I listen to the client, I know what they want me to do and then I do it the way I imagine it. I don’t want any client interfering with my work. If you were a doctor you wouldn’t let your patient tell you where to cut. You know what has to be done!

CS: How important is it to provoke today?

OT: What do you do if you don’t provoke? You have to provoke interest. If you don’t provoke you might as well stay at home and sleep.

CS: Do you think of your new campaign for Arte Generali as provocative?

OT: For sure I provoke an interest. An approach like that is pretty new for an insurance campaign. Do you remember any insurance advertising campaign? I don’t remember one! They are so boring, done by those agencies. They don’t even try to be provocative. Insurance advertising agencies are the most boring and stupid in the world of advertising.

"The greatest disruption is made by people who are dreamers."

CS: Looking at all these rapid shifts and changes in the world: Is there any project you would love to work on now?

OT: I would like to find a – what you call client – who wants to implement a big humanitarian project. Like a new vision of society, a new socio-political project. I don’t know exactly what – but that is what interests me. Because today you can do politics much better by communication than by doing politics. And as you see, all political movements are based on communication today. With the new technology that’s possible. Today communication is politics! They are not doing politics in parliament anymore. And I would like to face that kind of problem and work on that.

CS: So, basically it’s all about solving problems, isn’t it?

OT: Yes, but to start solving problems you need education. For any kind of problem education is the main issue. Profit is still what everyone strives for. The biggest disruption is created by people who are dreamers.

CS: Do you have a suggestion on how to integrate more dreamers into that profit-driven system?

OT: The understanding of Difference, of Otherness is the main problem. We don’t want to be different. We want to be German, we want to be Italian, male, female, white, fascist, communist. But this is wrong, so very wrong! We want to belong to those who are like us. But how can we start thinking the opposite? Like, that we want to belong to someone who is the complete opposite of us. When you start to think like that, it’s revolutionary. Accepting otherness. Because in differences there is the elixir of life!