“When I started my career, i-D was an outlet for photography that was free and experimental.” Mario Testino. i-D’s Mimma Viglezio reports from the world famous photographer’s new exhibition opening in Boston…
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For the opening of his first exhibition in an American Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, this morning Mario Testino spoke with Museum Director Malcom Rogers and press in the Museum auditorium. The talk was so inspiring, it made me want to share it.
Mario Testino was in a chatty mood and delighted his audience with pearls of wisdom, smart reasoning, wit and outrageously funny observation. I have known Mario for a while and I have had many occasions to know the incredibly focused and smart man behind the talented artist, but today I felt something new: the man is as successful as he is because he understands the fine line between artistic talent and commercial reality; celebrity and human vulnerability; fame and hard work. He told us that when he was a child in Peru he was too loud and that it was clear he had to leave, hence New York, then London, some university and eventually a photography school.
Testino recalled how Madonna changed his life by picking him for a Versace campaign when he was little known, and credited her with “keeping him alive” during the years by choosing him for various jobs. He recalled the time when he found a 15-year-old Kate Moss backstage at her first show crying, because she thought she was not loved because she was short. He convinced her she would be around for a long time by explaining the difference between perfume- “one drop and you smell it for three days” – and cologne – “you spray and walk in it and you still don’t smell it”. Kate is perfume, he said, and history proved us he was right. He remembered how he thought “someone had put the light on in the room when Giselle walked in” and explained that her global success is not only due to her perfect beauty but also to the fact that she is one of those rare models who knows how to make a picture look better. Finally he gave credit to Anna Wintour for her loyalty and mentoring skills. “I am definitely a Vogue photographer” he said, twice. He was then asked what he wanted to be recognised for: his commercial work or his art? His answer, once again, was brilliant. He declared he did not mind being labelled a commercial photographer or an artist. “I am a doer”, he said instead. His work is to find the best way to be simply Testino.
Testino, we cannot deny it, has today become a brand on top of a name, and the recognition of such important institutions as the British Royals or Museums like the MFA in Boston, are evidence of this. His work is magnificently exhibited in two galleries at the Museum with some 130 pictures that vary from colour to black and white, huge to medium to small formats, models, actresses, rock royalty and British royalty. The black and white snap of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards is probably the best ever seen of the pair, and the pictures “stolen” with a tiny camera (“you have to be fast like a cowboy with a gun to catch the moment”) of Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Gwyneth Paltrow laughing at a party, are proof of his sensibility and his ability to take memorable photos without a stage. On the other hand there are tens of amazing, staged photographs for which, he says, he is only the director. Everyone – hair, make up, stylist and set designer – is essential to the picture’s success ’cause “one makes a mistake and the whole thing becomes bad”.
Sexy, happy, outrageous, refined, surprising and incredibly loud, this exhibition is bringing a breath of fresh air to Boston that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
‘In Your Face’ by Mario Testino will run from 21st October 2012 to 3rd February 2013. ‘British Royal Portraits’ will run from 21st October 2012 to 16th June 2013. Both are at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and are sponsored by Swarovski and Stuart Weitzman.
Text: Mimma Viglezio
Images from top: Kate Moss, 2006 for Vogue Italia; Gwyneth Paltrow, 2005 for American Vogue; Gisele Bündchen, 2007 for Vanity Fair; Self portrait.
Image (bottom): The Body & Soul Issue, 1984. Photography Mario Testino.