If you don’t know who Mario Testino is, chances are you would have seen his work.
I love Mario Testino’s ability to elicit magic from his subjects. He captures life and light in the eyes of his subjects and is able to make his subjects look as if they are having the time of their lives, so relaxed, so in the moment. He brings out beauty in a person that we may have not seen before by making a person look more beautiful than thought possible. That is his magic! His style of photography has been described as “luxury realism” but for Mario, it’s all about having fun.
He is a master at encouraging his subjects. But he won’t photograph just anyone (damn, there goes that family portrait I was hoping for).
According to British Vogue, Mario is credited with bringing an end to the reign of the supermodel because he refused to pay the fees demanded by Linda, Naomi and friends in the early nineties. Models like Kate Moss and Stella Tennant became the new favourites of the fashion world as a result.
His popularity with designers and fashion editors stems as much from his professionalism and good nature as his unerring ability to take beautiful pictures which sell clothes and as a result you would find it virtually impossible to open a Vogue magazine and not see his work either on the cover or between the pages. There is a tongue-in-cheek attitude in his photographs, even though he photographs serious couture and ad campaigns for serious fashion houses like Burberry (below).
His most famous subject and shoot to date has been Princess Diana who he shot for Vanity Fair in 1997, just five months before her untimely death.
“Playfully he cast his eyes on the cool blonde seated on the couch, wondering what it would take to make her melt. He wanted her to laugh. He wanted her to roll around in her couture silks, right there on that big, gleaming boat of a sofa – and laugh.”
“On the day of the shoot, in a studio in South London, he just started talking, about this and that, nothing too personal. Mario has a marvelous voice – very warm, very satisfying, like one of those macerated cherries you get at the bottom of a good Manhattan. He just kept it light. He put on some music – Dalida, a French dance diva… the energy started to percolate. She got into it, laughing and tossing her head back and throwing off the most languid looks.”
“Not long after lunch she wanted learn to catwalk. Imagine, the most celebrated woman of our time – glamorous princess, champion fund-raiser, benefactor to the poor, mother of England’s future King – learning to strut like a runway queen!”
What got to Mario was the way the lady dropped her guard, as if it were one of the Queen’s prized pieces of millinery. She was so open and engaging, in fact, that he jokingly said he didn’t think he could address her properly as “ma’am.” She just looked up and grinned. “Then by all means,” she said, “call me Diana.“” – exerpt written by Cathy Horyn from Vanity Fair, July 1997.
His pictures of the Princess are the most enduring ever taken of her. We had never seen the Princess looking so radient or at ease in a photo shoot before. She was photographed by Testino in the gowns she had chosen to auction (at the suggestion of her son Prince William) for charity. The shots of Diana were to become legendary and not just because they were taken so close to her death but also because of the light and love he brought out of her during the shoot that simply radiates from the pictures.
He has photographed many fashion campaigns, some of them including Burberry, Gucci, Zara, Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Estèe Lauder, Valentino and Versace as well as just about any person you can think of…
Mario has published seven books thus far. His first book of photography, a raunchy and vibrant collection of images entitled Any Objections, in 1998 then Front Row Back Stage in 1999. In 2001 he published Alive with a forward by Gwyneth Paltrow. In 2002 he published Portraits to accompany his exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery. Later in 2003 he published Kids which featured portraits of children of close friends with proceeds donated to childrens cancer charity Sargent Cancer Care. Then in 2005, his exhibition of Diana photos, Diana: Princess of Wales, opened at Kensington Palace. Most recently in 2007 he published his definitive guide and tribute to his hometown, Lima Peru and Let Me In! with forward written by Nicole Kidman.
“As an artist he responds instinctively to his environment, it becomes part of his photographs, and you, the subject, become an integral part of the environment. Among his many gifts is the ability to capture something about the sitter’s essence, an immediacy, a shared moment. What’s more, he makes you feel special, which is a lovely way to feel, especially under the scrutiny of a camera lens.” Nicole Kidman from her forward in Let Me In!
The man who once said it was his “greatest pleasure in life” to make people laugh is a consummate professional. A man who takes photographs that are intimate, timeless, provocative and enduring.
I’ve never wanted to be famous, but I would be, just for one day if it meant I could have my portrait taken with my hubby and my girls by Mario Testino.