A publicity calendar launched this week made up entirely of close-ups of women's groins has whipped up a storm in Italy. However for shock photographer Oliviero Toscani it captures unkempt beauty.
Not only are feminists outraged but the calendar has brought censure from Italy's advertising watchdog.
AdvertisementThe "genital triangle" collection promotes an association of Tuscan leather workers who pride themselves on curing raw hides with natural methods -- and have chosen Toscani's photos as symbols of untamed feminine beauty.
But some feminists have argued that the graphic images offend female dignity and are "unethical," and a ban could be on the way after a formal complaint by Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna.
"We are outraged at this umpteenth example of women's bodies being used for publicity," said Roberta Gavagna from the Artemisia association against domestic abuse.
"Is Toscani suggesting the essence of women lies in their genitals?"
The Milanese photographer told AFP he wanted to expose the hypocrisy of high-fashion photos with his calendar, which features a different groin each month, each with a natural mass of blond, red or dark brown hair.
"I wanted to deglamorize the classic fashion industry photos, where women totter in high heels wearing bright red lipstick... and everything is revealed apart from the genital triangle, the real heart of seduction," he said.
It is not the first time the 69-year-old photographer, best known for his controversial ad campaigns for the Italian clothier Benetton, has taken on the fashion industry.
In 2007 Toscani photographed the emaciated French model Isabelle Caro in the nude for a "No Anorexia" campaign which at the time he said was intended to raise questions about fashion world stereotypes. Caro died in November at age 28.
Toscani was characteristically unrepentant about his involvement with this latest campaign.
"There are lots of calendars with sexy women with their thighs exposed, not at all like mine. My photos are not diabolical at all, they capture a beautiful, healthy part of the body," he said.
Toscani, who runs a stud farm at his home in Tuscany, has built his career on shock tactics and has been accused before of cynically using his controversial images for commercial ends.
His photographs of a man dying of AIDS for an advert for Benetton in 1992 sparked controversy, as did an equally contentious campaign based on photos of death row inmates in the US in 2000.
Several publicity schemes using his photographs have been banned in Italy, including an ad for a clothing brand in 2005 featuring two men groping on a sofa which caused outraged in the largely Catholic country.
The calendar will be distributed with Italy's Rolling Stone magazine and 76,000 copies have been printed so far.
But after receiving numerous complaints about the calendar, Italy's self-regulating advertising body (IAP) on Thursday ruled it was "offensive" and gave the consortium 10 days before it moves to ban them.
"The female body is equated to 'tanned leather'... to an animal that has been killed, dissected and made into a processed product," IAP said in a press release.
The Vera Pelle (Real Leather) Consortium has rebuffed criticism of its calendar as "absurd" and "hypocritical".
Representative Simone Remi said the images were "provocative but well within limits of decency" and rebutted accusations that the calendar exploits women for financial gain.
"Does it seem normal that the authorities are getting worked up over a calendar that's by no means vulgar when there are much more serious issues at stake in the leather industry," he said.
"Our companies make sure all ecological, health and safety rules are met. But we have to compete with Made in Italy products churned out by companies who break all the rules, illegally hiring workers and dumping toxic waste. Isn't that the real scandal?"