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Mario Testino
Mario Testino’s 2007 photograph of Gisele Bündchen in New York is one of many striking images on view at the MFA.
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Mario Testino: In Your Face

Museum of Fine Arts

October 21, 2012 – February 3, 2013

Free with MIT ID

“These images are probably the most acute examples of everything I cherish” is how Mario Testino describes his debut museum exhibition in the United States. On display at the MFA, Mario Testino: In Your Face is a collection of 122 photographs drawn from the last 30 years of Testino’s work.

The fashion photography giant is renowned for images that evoke a sense of spontaneity, irreverence, and glamor. From stylish models to graceful royals, his portfolio includes portraits of all manner of celebrities, including Lady Gaga, David Beckham and Natalie Portman. He even took the passport photo of Anna Wintour’s son as a baby. As well as working for V and Vanity Fair, Testino has been a Vogue photographer for 16 years, and more than 50 covers of American Vogue have featured his work. Among numerous other fashion houses, he has shot campaigns for Burberry, Gucci and Michael Kors.

Originally from Peru, Testino moved to London in 1976 to study photography. His first big breakthrough as a fashion photographer came when his shots of Madonna were advertised with the caption “Versace presents Madonna by Testino.” Soon afterwards, and just months before her death, Testino was commissioned to photograph Princess Diana. His images of her, in their informality and intimacy, became iconic, and since then the British Royal family have employed him regularly, including for the recent official engagement photos of Prince William and Kate Middleton. A selection of these is displayed in Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits, a smaller exhibition also at the MFA (on view through June 16, 2013). Of particular note is a serendipitous photo taken at the Royal Wedding of 1981, before Testino became well known. As he recounts, “I was in the Strand, sitting on top of a red mailbox. I came really early to get that seat because the carriages for the wedding were going to go through … I captured that image of the Queen Mother with Prince Edward, and for some funny reason, the Queen Mother is looking straight at my camera, almost as if she is my best friend. And she’s about to go [grins widely and waves] and this is the beginning of my royal portraits.”

Two particular muses of Testino’s are Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen. Testino tells an endearing anecdote about how he met Kate Moss. She was 15 years old and was crying backstage after a John Galliano show. Testino asked her what was wrong, and she told him she thought they didn’t like her because they only gave her one outfit to model. Testino comforted her: “Don’t worry because in life there is perfume and cologne … My mother used to use perfume. You just use a little drop and it lasts a week. Cologne, you’re walking through, spraying, and ten minutes later you smell of nothing. But you, you are perfume. You will last forever.” And so began a working relationship of more than 20 years. In 2011, Kate Moss by Mario Testino was published, and In Your Face displays eight photos of the supermodel.

In Your Face opens with 16 screens simultaneously showing footage of Testino behind the scenes. It contains clips of him socializing with Bill Gates and Daniel Radcliffe, doing photo shoots, and travelling around the world. It is a testament to the fast-paced life he leads, and a trailer of sorts to the exhibition. Testino’s way of life imbues his work with energy and color, and he has made efforts to never let those become stale. Inspired by photojournalism, he explains, “Some years ago I decided that my work could look a little staged … so I decided I have to make my photos a little bit more like my own life. And what better way than to train myself with a little camera that I carry everywhere? I often compare myself to cowboys. You know, they have to train how to draw the gun at a speed that they don’t die. Photography is the same. You have to be really quick in order to get that image.”

Testino’s images are unfailingly provocative — they will make you blush, laugh out loud, and take a closer look. There is a Peruvian saying, “You can reveal the miracle but not the saint.” Well, In Your Face gives you a sense of the saint behind the miracle.