Mario Testino, fashion photographer

Mario Testino is generally known as one of the greatest fashion photographers in the world; he is of Peruvian origin. He is responsible, among other things, for the careers of Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen.

Two super-models, Gisele Bündchen and Kate Moss, under the creative claw of Mario Testino

He has undergone a metamorphosis over the years, publishing in 2017 his first book presenting pictures of men, entitled Sir. It is a look on the men that he has photographed during his career.

One of the greatest in the world: he has done 62 covers with Vogue France alone. He has published with all the major fashion magazines around the world: Vanity Fair, GQ, V-Man, several international editions of Vogue, and many others. He has also contributed to the revival of certain brands such as Gucci, Versace, by creating images that are imprinted in people’s memories.

The famous photos of Princess Diana, which were taken shortly before her death and which were published in Vanity Fair. For the first time, people are able to share them on social media. We saw her in another light through these pictures, which were taken in 1997. It was these pictures that made her known to the general public. They were photos of great restraint, of a free and confident woman, of great beauty and at her prime. The simplicity of the images was a shock, which gave the impression that someone succeeded to capture the essence of her unconventional beauty. A liberated woman, following her divorce, able to express herself.

Testino’s great strength is that of a portraitist. There is a meaning behind every fashion picture. We feel that his models are free, comfortable and confidently involved. He makes them laugh a lot. We can feel a relationship developing in these photos. In addition to his fashion pictures, he is also a great portraitist. It is a fantastic vision, where one can feel the actors’ authenticity and freedom.
There is a sense of loyalty with all the actors that he has photographed. He would continue to photograph them for several years, highlighting them and understanding them in a certain way. In the fashion scene, it has become an honor to be photographed by Testino, hence the importance of maintaining a relationship.

What defines him in terms of style is that his photos are not static. His characters are always in motion, which yields interesting results in terms of image renderings. He gives to his models the freedom of movement.

In fashion photography, the work of a photographer closely relates to that of the director, which is to lead the model. A good fashion photographer must know how to lead the mannequin, the actor.

It was Testino who did the nuptial pictures of Kate and Prince William. The most stunning pictures were taken at the end of the official shoot, in a style that was more casual, when they were bundled up with each other. These are the images that were retained, and not the tense, staged ones. We can find in these pictures a glimpse of authenticity in an otherwise pretentious world. Indeed, photography can often tell great lies.

Kate and Prince William, wedding photos 

Mario Testino was born in Peru to an Italian father and an Irish mother. He moved to England at the early age of 22 years old. He found it difficult to live in Peru because he was already a little bit eccentric. He was intended to become a priest, which is quite interesting, considering he was one of the initiators of the ‘porno chic’ movement in the fashion milieu. He studied in the fields of economics and law, before eventually setting his sight on photography. He moved to London, therefore fleeing a conservative and traditional country that did not allow him to be himself. London gave him the scene that he was looking for in the 70’s, with its music, actors, and arts. It was also the punk era.

Known to be resourceful, in order to start his photography career, he offered to do the portfolio of numerous models for next to nothing. From there, he began to produce and to work for major magazines. The model Anna Wintour is very fond of him and appoints him for her projects.

Anna Wintour and Mario Testino

With his seven books, Sir is the first one that is completely devoted to photographs of men, with more than 300 images. These photos are issued from the fashion milieu. He has contributed to many advertising campaigns for big name brands, such as Gucci, Chanel, Tom Ford and others. In this book, there are photos that are already famous. For example, we owe to him the famous Calvin Klein underwear campaign that we’ve seen in Montreal, on large billboards in the metro. He has done the famous Calvin Klein underwear campaign with Justin Bieber in 2015.

Justin Bieber, Calvin Klein campaign


Justin Bieber Photoshop, Before and After

There is a change in style from campaign to campaign. Fifteen years ago, he did a campaign with Tom Ford and Carmen Kass to relaunch Gucci, with the ‘porno chic’ style that caused a lot of controversies. He photographed the pelvic area of a woman on which a G had been cut in the pubic hair. This photo caused numerous scandals and was banned in 2003.

Campaign of Tom Ford for Gucci with model Carmen Kass in 2003. This campaign has been banned.

Despite everything, he has demonstrated great versatility, having worked for example with the royal family on numerous occasions.
The publication of Sir, his 19th book, took some time, since he was not ready to finalize his selection. His previous books featured exclusively famous women. On one hand, he seemed to think it’s due to the lack of photos, but it may also be because the public may not be ready to see a book devoted entirely to men. Perhaps for fear of cliché photos, embarrassment or discomfort. The book highlights that the mutation in male conditions go hand in hand with that of the female conditions. While women accessed more and more the working world, became emancipated and steadily gained their independence, men on the other hand fell without shame into a universe of charm, of seduction and of eroticism. No one better than Mario Testino to integrate this mutation.

He has been a witness of this male transformation for the last 40 years. The definition of a man has changed. In his pictures dating back to the 1980s, one can see elegance in the dressing style, if we look solely on the appearance. In the most recent pictures, he doesn’t put the emphasis on the clothing anymore, but much more on the body. In the 80’s, the social distinction was still made on the basis of being able to purchase expensive clothes. Today, it is the ability to remain young that is most valued.

What is it that makes someone young? The musculature. However, one loses muscles as one ages. Being muscular expresses a certain youth, a strength.

We often talk about pictures of women that are perpetuated in the media, but we do not talk about those of men. In reality, men face the reality of being constantly exposed to male advertising. The man object is a new presence in advertising, and this presence is greatly highlighted in the book. The man object is a social phenomenon. The emancipation of gay men in the 80’s forced society to redefine masculinity and virility. Also, the emancipation of financially independent women led them to increase their level of aesthetic appreciation. Fundamentally, the phenomenon of man object was first entered through commercial influence, in which Testino has contributed enormously.

We also see this trend in self-assured athletes, such as Justin Timberlake or David Beckham, who dare to experiment with all kinds of fashion, and who dare to show their body and their tattoos. We find this sense of abandonment in front of the camera, which previously strictly belonged to women, and there is no shame in admitting it.

Mario Testino, David Beckham and Justin Timberlake

We also see the feminization of men’s body, with particular preference for thinner figures for example. Today, the idea pf controlling one’s body also affects men. All the work that is done on the body becomes a form of reward: it is used to show that we have achieved something.

There is also a question of expression of power. Clothes were previously an expression of power. Now, the body expresses these influences. There is a great paradox behind all this: the authenticity. This photography expresses on one side great authenticity, but on the other side great superficiality. Fashion ceases to solely present the garment, but now also integrates the body, as seen with the tattoos example.

Authenticity is seen as something natural. For example, we can opt for aesthetic surgery to move closer to the inner image that one has of oneself and to be at peace with one’s image. In this book, we can see the evolution of body appreciation which has become important, and the idea that it is no longer just the clothes, but also the work done on the body that defines the style and the look. The look is the physiognomy, the musculature, the capillary staining, it is everything together and not just the clothes.

Despite all this, photos of Kit Richard and Mick Jagger can be found in this book. They are the exact opposite of the sought-after look, while they still continue to practice a profession often associated with youth and confidently assume their role. There are also 4 photos of David Bowie. It is the forerunners that have allowed this openness and this abandonment and not having any complexes. David Bowie, who was the epitome of androgenic expression, with an incredible thin figure, who featured a lot of his physics just as much as his clothes. He is very well presented in the book. The creativity of Testino was stimulated by these characters, people who embraced their eccentricity.

Mario Testino, Kit Ritchard and Mick Jagger

Since we often see these models in films, in advertising campaigns, we often have already seen their portraits. Then what is different in this book? Do we see a new facet, a new humanity? What can be found is audacity. We feel great confidence and trust between the subject and the photographer, who completely let themselves go for the shoot. That look, which is quite rare, which is not turned off or transformed by the edits, we feel the humanity.

He is a photographer loved by everyone, media, creators, businesses, which is very rare in this competitive business. He is someone who works a lot and who establishes real contact and relationship to obtain that sense of ease and those smiles.
What’s particular, usually a photographer has a style, we can recognize them. But we do not know Testino’s style because he has worked many people in the fashion industry. He has positioned the marks in function of the orders that were given to him. His portraits become unique, without a distinctive style. We are not talking about a style, but about elegance and emotion that return in his photos.
An example of a scene set with the athlete Tom Bready, where a Doberman bites him on the sleeves, a very strong photo

Mario Testino, Tom Brady for VMan Magazine

For his large collection of work, his ability to shock, and his ease in establishing solid relationships with his models, Testino is indispensable in the fashion photography industry.


References, Mario Testino

Officiel Web Site: Mario Testino

Towel Series, Mario Testino


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