Oliviero Toscani is a renowned photographer, a deus ex machina of international communication campaigns for various distinguished institutions (including the United Nations), magazines and companies (such as Benetton). He is the founder of Fabrica, an international research centre for communication and art, and the co-founder of Colors, the first global magazine. He gives us a glimpse of Italy, as he sees it through his creative lens.
What is the secret to the great success of Silvio Berlusconi and the backwardness of the Italian political classes, in comparison with other European countries? We could say that Europe is fast moving forward without us…
When the people have a low level of intellect and the intelligentsia practically no longer exists – probably because they have moved their elegant behinds to pastures new – it is easy to be carried by the masses. This is Berlusconi’s secret. Look at his jokes: they’re nothing special. They wouldn’t make anyone laugh at a dinner table. But given that in politics, there is no awareness of anything, not even creativity, a normal joke takes on a major humoristic dimension. Berlusconi is simply a normal man who says things differently from the usual windbags that thrive in Italian politics.
In a recent interview to Rai 2, he said that creativity could not be democratic. Do you think that Berlusconi and the minister for economics, Giulio Tremonti, apply creative political agendas and finance policies?
The creative process is never democratic. And creative finance does not exist, it is a falsehood, it is a joke. As to creative politics, the only man who ever succeeded in that was Mahatma Gandhi. That’s it. Berlusconi, once again, is a normal man in the midst of a mass of uninteresting, ordinary people.
You recently said that you hoped that Berlusconi would win again so that you could, as a man of the left, have your enemy in government and be able to criticize him openly. Are you saying you wouldn’t do it if the left came to power? The left is 'dialectic' anyway, looking at history…
Dialectic? What do you mean, 'dialectic'?! The left is fundamentalist. There is no room for intelligence.
But didn’t you once say you would abstain from criticising your own political beliefs?
Even if I do belong to that bizarre group of lefties, I do acknowledge that it has frightening limits. The left is devoid of any sort of creativity. We are barbaric and yet ordinary. Even the children know that we are living in a totally right-wing society, and for one simple reason: we are all chasing profit. In the seventies, it was different…
I will give you an example. In 1976, Silvio Berlusconi invited me to dinner one day to the house of a Milanese lady. He asked Umberto Eco to come as well…
Yes. He wanted us on his side. He wanted to hand us his new television channel. Basically, we would have been in charge of communication and content. Naturally, neither of us accepted, even though the money he offered was no small amount.
If the right and the left do not exist any more, what do you think about devolution, of the nationalistic revival in Europe of individual peoples? You have Europe in your blood, so how do you see the Italian problem in the heart of Europe?
Being born in Italy does not mean anything to me. It is only a document. I am not linked to any country in particular. I love Sweden, Norway, the Scandinavian countries in general. I feel at ease up there. I respect the people and I believe there is a fundamental difference between the Italians and the Scandinavians. Look at Sweden, for example. It is a rich country and the people are well-off. Italy, on the other hand, is a poor country, becoming increasingly poorer. Lots of rich people live here, but they are all, by and large, financial speculators who evade taxes.
Are you referring to the recent financial scandals in Italy? Those involved in real estate who are currently under scrutiny? Do you believe that the time has come for international mergers, even for Italy?
Absolutely! And Europe will save us. Foreign companies have already started taking over our national banks, like the French takeover bid for the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. Let them buy out the schools and the public services! And let Lufthansa buy out Alitalia! France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom can produce more diverse and better services. I buy American jeans, a German car, and I have never really heeded the borders.
And finally, Master Toscani, you who are creative and who are a good judge of beauty – do you still find beauty in Italy?
Yes, in the people. Italy is made up of individuals. And there is also beauty in the light and the magnetism in this land… It is an energy that you cannot find anywhere else, even if that magnetism has sometimes been ruinous. Beauty is also in the art of this country. The rulers in Italy have always used art, because, whatever the ruling party, it needs art. Art is typically a visual means of communication, with a double edge – it is educational and it relies on rulers to grow.