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When Oliviero Toscani appreciated a photo I took

Once, I submitted a photo to a contest hosted by Oliviero, and among thousands of pictures, Oliviero found my creaton not so bad.

Friday, March 15, 2024

During the pandemic, I had the ritual of watching Oliviero Toscani’s live sessions on Instagram every day. Oliviero, probably as bored as everyone else, regularly started live sessions on Instagram, where he talked about photography and, of course, the current pandemic.

I always loved his work and found his strong and bold personality truly entertaining. Of course, when someone holds only bold opinions, it’s hard to always agree with all of them. In fact, I disagree with many of the bold opinions Oliviero has. But this doesn’t diminish my admiration for the artist.

As a child, when I discovered my passion for photography, he was one of the first artists I studied and one of the first influences I encountered on my photographic journey. I loved it from the first moment.

Love him or hate him, I love his creative work. [ 1 ] (sidenote: He would probably hit my head with a camera, because of the 'improper' use of the word creativity.)

The contest

One day, he had an idea: Why don’t we have a photo contest together? In a matter of seconds, he made the idea concrete and asked all the people watching the live session [ 1 ] (sidenote: We were few thousends people) to send a self-portrait that represents the meaning of quarantine for us.

What does quarantine mean to you? How are you experiencing it? Take a self-portrait to explain.

After that, he wanted to select the best portraits to send to Repubblica, an italian national newspaper, to publish the selection on their website every week.

What a fantastic idea!

I put my passion for photography aside due to the busyness of life [ 1 ] (sidenote: Kids are a black hole for time) . This was an opportunity to be creative with a camera once again.

The pictures

I immediately started to brainstorm ideas. What does quarantine mean to me?

The restrictions started to affect me, even though I love staying at home. I felt a kind of anger, or a need to escape.

I decided to play with exposure times and, using flash, I first captured my face in an expressionless manner to represent the boredom and resignation visible on the outside. Then, with the shutter open for another 20 seconds, I moved my head in different directions, pausing for 1-2 seconds with expressions of despair, the need to escape, etc. These secondary impressions on the sensor should represent my inner state, contrasting with emotions like boredom and resignation.

Here is the result:

my self protrait sent to Oliviero Toscani for his contest
Not sure if is really cool or really cringe
Nikon D600, 50mm f/10 20"

I was somewhat satisfied, but I knew it didn’t quite fit Oliviero’s style. He always said, “Stop trying to be creative! Just express yourself in a simple way. The more you try to impress others that you are a creative person, the worse art you produce.”

And I thought that this picture might be categorized by him as one of those attempts to be overly creative. And somehow, he’s also right.

Then I wanted my wife to participate, but she wasn’t as excited about the idea as I was, so she said, “You can take my portrait.”

I immediately started to think of something creative, but then I just tried to do what Oliviero said. Stop trying to find the most “creative” and amazing idea. Just do the job. Represent quarantine with a picture of a person.

One day, my camera was on, and my wife was sitting on the sofa, bored.

Boredom was definitely part of quarantine. Then, she started to yawn.

Without thinking, I pointed my camera and shot.

Here was the amazing result:

protrait of my wife sent to Oliviero Toscani for his contest
This picture talk
Nikon D600, 50mm f/4 1/50

Satisfied with the pictures, I sent everything to Oliviero.

A dream came true

Days passed, with thousands of people sending in pictures like I did, and he was overwhelmed by the response to this contest. The number of pictures was huge, and he, along with his collaborators, was doing the selection work.

This made it really hard to track my picture’s status. Were both accepted? Or rejected? When would they be visible on Repubblica?

At first, I checked the Repubblica website every day. Then, I tried to never miss a live session, as he showed his progress and some pictures that he found to be the best of the selection he made.

It was exhausting because every day I hoped to see one of my pictures, but every time I was disappointed, thinking that maybe my pictures were really rejected.

Then, one day, I was already resigned. I was watching another live session of Oliviero, bored and hopeless.

That day, there was a guest, Gad Lerner, an amazing Italian journalist whom I admire.

Oliviero said, “Hey Gad! I’ll show you some amazing pictures I received! It’s amazing how many incredible pictures I got! Look at this one, and this one …” And he pointed his smartphone’s camera to the selected pictures.

And then I saw it.

Screnshot of the screen of my smartphone while Oliviero Toscani showed my picture to Gad Lerner
This was a strong moment for me

Oliviero selected the portrait of my wife as “amazing work,” along with other amazing pictures.

As someone with a passion for photography, who has worked a lot in the photography industry, who admires the work of Oliviero Toscani, trying somehow to communicate with images as he does, this was an overwhelming moment.

It was finally the moment where my creative work was acknowledged and appreciated. And not by just anyone, but by Oliviero Toscani!

That moment meant that I was right. That my taste in visual art is right. That if I find a picture or an idea cool, and somebody else doesn’t, I have to do what I think is right. And this was confirmation that I was right.

I then never tried to look at the Repubblica website again every day, and I started to miss some live sessions of Oliviero, slowly stopping to watch.

I didn’t care if my portrait was also selected or not. And I don’t know if this picture or both were posted on the Repubblica homepage. Nothing else mattered anymore. I had already won the contest.

What an amazing experience. Thank you for reading this little personal story, and thank you, Oliviero!