"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 dislikes 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 did entirely create the Arte Generali campaign, 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 an especially 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 actually don’t like advertising firms and 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 realise the images and thinking. I do the images with photography that I imagine myself. I’m my own art director, I’m the agency.

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

OT: Yes, at the end I’m taking a picture of the concept I’m thinking or what I create for the company. Normally you tell a photographer what kind of picture to do and everything is set. Advertising agencies want to produce a photograph they want. That’s not my thing. I’m not this kind of photographer. A photographer is someone who takes pictures with the camera. I take pictures with my brain, with my creativity – and then I take it with a camera.

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

OT: Big companies are always made by creative people. I mean those financial managers or marketing managers; they 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. People with creativity, mentality of subversion, mentality of revolution and courage. 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, new ideas are what you developed in your work as a photographer …

OT: All my life I did it. It is an experiment. You have to experiment all the time.

CS: But if you experiment, you can fail.

OT: Yes! A real failure is just if you give 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 dealing with accidents, tragedies, life and death, sickness … and finally and in this case, insurance is dealing with art – that is untouchable.

CS: Do you collect art?

OT: No. I don’t collect anything. I must say that possession and property is too disturbing. 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 possess something in the future. It’s not comfortable, even to have something in the pocket is too much. I like to have my pockets empty.

CS: But you own a vineyard and olive trees.

OT: Yes, but that’s not my work. I never had a studio, I never had that kind of setup, normally photographers have got.

CS: You own 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 it’s better to stay at home and sleep."

CS: It’s of utmost importance that artists are free in their work. Was there ever a project, where a client told you what to do and you stopped?

OT: The client is not a professional in my work. I listen to a client, I know what I should do for him and then I do it the way how I think at the end. I don’t want any client interfering on what I’m doing. If you would be a doctor you wouldn’t let your patient tell you where to cut. You know what do to!

CS: How important is provoking nowadays?

OT: What are you doing if you don’t provoke? You have to provoke interest. If you don’t provoke it’s better to stay at home and sleep.

CS: Do you think you provoke with your new campaign for Arte Generali?

OT: For sure I provoke an interest. An angle like that is pretty new for an insurance campaign. Do you remember any insurance campaign? I don’t remember one! They are so boring made by those agencies. They try not to provoke in any kind of interest. Advertising agencies for insurance are the most boring and stupid in the world of advertising.

"Big distortion 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 would like to risk on a big humanitarian project. I like a new vision of society, a new socio-political project. I don’t know 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 have to give an education. For any kind of problem education is the main project. Profit is still the main task. And big distortion is made by people who are dreamers.

CS: Do you have a concept for integrating more dreamers into the profit driven system?

OT: Difference is the main problem to understand. We don’t want to be different. We want to be German, we want to be Italian, male, female, white, fascist, communist. That’s wrong, that’s wrong! We want to belong to somebody that you think is like us. How to start thinking the opposite? Like we want to belong to somebody who is completely different than us. If you start to think like that it’s revolution. Accepting the difference. In difference there is the juice of life!