Oliviero Toscani, Photographer
This is the story…
When I arrived at the set of the VIST catalogue shoot in St. Ullrich, South Tyrol, I introduced myself to photographer Oliviero Toscani. I told him I was a blogger and was going to be there for two days to watch him work. “Bloggers are lazy!” was all he said. Well, I had known that provocation is a major domain of his. The next day, we sat down for the following interview…
What is a good photo?
A good photo is something that will stay as a document of something that happened to the humanity. You might immediately think of a war picture. No, I mean, a fashion picture, too, is a document of the human behaviour. I want to see what we are going through. So that for me is a good picture. It has nothing to do if it is technically well done. When the quality of an image stops at the aesthetics – colour, composition – it is always mediocre. Because the only task of art is the human condition. That kind of research.
So your motivation of being a photographer is being a researcher of humanity?
Landscape, nature, animals… they are all perfect. The imperfection of humanity interests me a lot.
How do you become a good photographer?
To be a photographer today is not any more like it used to be twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Once, you had to know how to handle the camera, you had to know the technology. Today, that is not important. Today, to be a photographer is to be an imaginator. You have to use your imagination and imagine an image. Everybody can read and write, but how many authors are there? The same with photography: today, everybody can take a picture. But when a picture that doesn’t serve anything turns to be an art picture – all those pictures hanging in exhibition halls, galleries – that makes me laugh. It’s nonsense. They are ridiculous, they are the most stupid thing to do. Pictures that you take on a Sunday afternoon when you haven’t got anything else to do. I don’t believe in these art photographers. It is an insult to real photography.
What is a real photographer? Someone you admire, alive or dead?
Because he handed over to society an incredible document of German life at that time. And not just German life, but the human condition at that time. For sure August Sander, Diane Arbus… there are a lot who have been very important.
What is your recipe for success?
I don’t have a recipe for success. Today the big problem is success. Everybody is working for success. Bullshit! You don’t work for success. You have to work. And then somebody else will tell you if it is successful or not. Success is a consequence. Creativity, too, is a consequence. You know, a lot of young people they work for success. They lose themselves in the web, they lose themselves in a lot of gossipy, uncreative matters. Somehow, you have to be alone. You don’t have to read and look and go and see what other people do. You should be like Kaspar Hauser if you want to be a good photographer. You have to develop your own primitive, instinctive view. If you look at what everybody else is doing, what is fashionable, you are lost. You have to listen to your voice.
So it is a lot about inuition?
Yes. You should be blind somehow to be able to be a photographer. You should be blind on one side and you should be very aware on the other side. You should see just your own way.
How did digital photography change the way you are working?
Yes, photography changed a lot. But it’s not the technology. I can work with any camera. And photoshop and all that bullshit is a secondary problem. That’s not the point. A lot of people get lost with that and they become lazy. Incredibly lazy! That’s what I notice about young photographers: they don’t really research for themselves. They do what the mainstream is doing because it’s fashionable. They don’t listen to their voice. They don’t realize that they are unique.
Do you have any favorite picture of the ones you took?
All the work I did on Sant’Anna di Stazzema, that village that had been destroyed by the Nazis in Second World War. That was a major work of mine. I went to photograph all the survivors. This has been a very deep work. The book is called “The Children Remember”. Because when it happened, they were children. Now, they are old people. And they were telling me what they had seen that day. That is probably my best work, but very few people know it. So you see, to make something good you don’t have to make things that everybody know. It has nothing to do with fame.
What was the last book you read?
Well, I was reading the Steve Jobs biography because I knew the guy. It’s well done. And the last real book I read was Emil Cioran, a Romanian writer, kind of a philosopher. I don’t read novels. I read sociology, philosophy books most of the times.
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Not so many, I am not a shoe fanatic. Lots of shirts, though.
I have my own, I produce them. So I’ve got four or five pairs. I am a very bad shopper. I never go shopping. I never buy anything. I just go to the hardware store. I like screwdrivers, all those kind of tools.
Are you a handyman?
Yeah yeah. Fascinates me, all the machinery and that. I never walked into a bank all my life. I hate that, walking into a bank. Stupid people, the bankers. Lawyers and bankers, I hate them.
And why do you hate bloggers?
I don’t hate bloggers. I think, it is an incredible waste of time. Not for the bloggers because they are doing something. But the people who waste their time sitting in front of the screen believing that they learn something there. They don’t learn anything. They deny the direct experience of things. I need a physical experience, three dimensional. And the blog, facebook, all this is… I say it very harshly: now we know where all the stupid are – in front of the monitor! Because anything that is easy is stupid!
Some more photos from his major work “I Bambini Ricordano” (“The Children Remember”)…
© Oliviero Toscani