Oliviero Toscani's 1996 ad campaign for United Colors of Benetton.


Italian Milanese photographer Oliviero Toscani is being celebrated with a personal exhibition called “Oliviero Toscani. Più di 50 anni di magnifici fallimenti” at Whitelight Art Gallery, inside the workspace Copernico Milano.

Running until April 28, the gallery lines up about 400 images, showing the provocative and controversial subjects that shaped Toscani’s career, such as death penalty, AIDS, war, anorexia, homosexuality and racism.

©oliviero_toscani_Suora e Prete. United Colors of Benetton, 1992.

©oliviero_toscani_Suora e Prete. United Colors of Benetton, 1992.  Oliviero Toscani

The exhibition, curated by Nicolas Ballario, mixes photos without a particular chronological order: the “Magnificent Failures,” so called by the photographer, establishes a huge collection which revolves around all of Toscani’s works for different international magazines, such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, Elle and brands including Missoni, Giorgio Armani, Elio Fiorucci, Chanel and Valentino.

The exhibit focuses on the power of the image and Toscani’s “humanity,” said gallerist Giorgia Sarti. “Some criticize his works, some love him…But everybody knows him,” she added.

To be sure, it is difficult to forget the explicit and transgressive campaigns that made history, such as the kiss between a priest and a nun, used for a United Colors of Benetton campaign, or the shocking photograph to denounce anorexia of French model Isabelle Caro for a Nolita campaign.

During his career, Toscani worked with important artists, who became friends and subjects of his portraits, such as Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Carmelo Bene and Federico Fellini.

The iconic slogan “Chi mi ama, mi segua [Those who love me, follow me]” displayed on the backside of model Donna Jordan in Hot Pants for the Jesus Jeans campaign is unforgettable, as is his portrait of an African boy with eyes of different colors, which inspired David Bowie for his song “Black Tie, White Noise.”

Oliviero Toscani, "Chi mi ama, mi segua." for Jesus Jeans Campaign.

Oliviero Toscani, “Chi mi ama, mi segua.” for Jesus Jeans Campaign.  Courtesy photo

During the inauguration day on Feb. 15, a specific area of the gallery was dedicated to the project “Razza Umana [Human Race],” which started in 2007: Toscani shot 40 portraits of  individuals, offering a kind of eye-camera dialog moment, also sharing the photos with an autograph.

“The photo tells a story, and reveals what you can’t understand about these people,” said Toscani. “My goal is the research of an individual story. Photos with top models are appreciated because they’re empty, so perfect. The aesthetics is mediocrity.”

Toscani will start on Feb. 25 and 26 a project whereby “People could learn to remove virtuosity from photography,” he said, in a Masterclass workshop around the world. The first leg is in Italy’s Rimini.

Toscani is a force of nature and he knows he’s hard to stop as he concluded “Wish me the best because I’ll die doing this.”

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