Oliviero Toscani was the photographer involved in the creation of the United Colours of Benetton ads in the 1990s, which used controversial themes and juxtapositions to great effect from a marketing point of view.
The ads included images of AIDS victims, death row prisoners, body parts, famine sufferers etc. There were adverse reactions to the images themselves as being unsuitable for public display and against the use of serious issues involving human suffering for commercial purposes. Of course, the controversy generated a lot of publicity and gave Benetton the sense of being an outsider brand and thereby generated huge sales.
This gave Toscani the platform to try to be taken more seriously as an artist: in fairness to him, he chose an artistic avenue that didn’t take itself too seriously. In 1998, he published a book of photographs of faeces (or cacas in Italian) with accompanying text. The work is beautifully produced and laid out in the manner of a then modern Encyclopaedia. The photographic style echoes (and pastiches) the Dusseldorf school of pure objectivity.
In part, I see the work as a play on the whole question of attempting to gain attention (and marketing advantage) through generating disgust and outrage – a kind of critique of the cultural detritus produced by late Capitalism.
The link with my leaves comes from the idea that faeces are redolent of decay but at the same time depend on life for their production. Toscani has tried to show that there is nothing that shouldn’t be examined by an objective camera and that relevant themes and symbols can be found in even the most unlikely places. Compared to his work, my linking of issues surrounding death and beauty (such as assisted dying, martyrdom etc) to autumn leaves is not a big stretch. For this, see leaves.gallery for more.
Matthew Greenburgh is an artist who focuses on still life work with strong aesthetic and symbolic components.