Oliviero Toscani is a well-known fashion photographer whose work has appeared in magazines such as Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Stern. However, it is his advertising campaign (The United Colors of Benetton) for Benetton from 1982 to 2000 that made him and the firm world famous. In the United Colors, he brought together strongly contrasting opposites in the same image to symbolize the acceptance of differences, multiculturalism, the fight for equality and peace.
“Kissing-nun” (1992) dealt with the theme of religion, contrasting a profane, sensual kiss with the sacred vows pronounced by men and women who enter religious orders. Challenging the principle of religious celibacy, the picture encourages viewers to refuse traditional constraints and thereby directly attacks the basic values of Catholicism. The public felt deeply offended; in Italy, bowing to pressure from the Vatican, the use of the image was finally prohibited. The French authorities demanded the withdrawal of the posters.
In the later years, he moved away from the original intention of the advertisements (the presentation of Benetton clothes) with pictures of a black woman breastfeeding a white baby, of a white wolf and a black sheep or of a tiny black hand held in a large white one. In 2000, his Death Row campaign used portraits of 26 American prisoners who had been condemned to death which created a public outcry. Benetton fired Toscani. Toscani went on which his career, causing further controversies along the way. In 2002, making the poster for the movie Amen (about the Vatican’s wartime collaborations with Hitler) he combined a Christian cross with a Nazi swastika.