When it comes to high powered photographers, Mario Testino is in a league of his own. As the premiere image maker for the world’s elite, Testino is the go-to photographer for movie stars, music greats, royalty and of course top-tier fashion magazines. Known for bringing out the best in his subjects and capturing the hidden side of some of the biggest names in existence, Testino has become an industry legend. His vibrant, energetic images are instantly recognizable whether you see them in the pages of Vogue, V or Vanity Fair and his name has become synonymous with a kind of intimate perspective that gives viewers an unguarded glimpse inside glamorous new worlds. From behind the scenes at the Met Gala, to a packed Sao Paolo beach with Gisele, or a private room in Buckingham Palace, Testino takes you there in a way no other photographer can.
With two exciting new projects set to debut; a cover to cover special for Vogue China’s 100th issue, entirely produced by Art Partner, and for which he even designed the layout of his stories himself, and his most personal exhibition, Alta Moda at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute, Testino is once again the man of the hour. Models.com catches up with the photography legend to talk supermodels, collaborating with Vogue China and why he still believes in the magic of “possibilities, opportunities and curiosity.”
Intro text by Janelle Okwodu
Mario Testino portrait by Ben Tietge
All photos courtesy of Mario Testino / Vogue China
Savage Grace – Liu Wen, Styling by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele
China is a huge country and when there are so many people there are many surprises. I find it full of energy and there is a real sense of discovery there.
Did you find that China is developing its own aesthetic and signature look, that is distinct from the Western fashion world, and do you think it will in turn influence the global fashion market?
At the moment I still see a lot of foreign influence, but there is a real sense of a scene emerging and I think it will only get bigger and have more impact.
A Band Apart – Xiao Wen Ju, Tang Xiaotian, Tian Yi, River Huang Styling by Beat Bolliger
I like people and the people I was photographing were creatives and young talents – people I naturally connect with beyond language.
Based on your experience there, what do you think brands that want to succeed in China need to do?
Come with an attitude of giving as well as taking.
The term supermodel gets thrown around a lot, but there are only a few who really break through into celebrity status. Do you think we are in the midst of a new age of supermodels fueled by the countless blogs and web sites (like this one) obsessing over them, and social media allowing some to build followers into the millions?
I think the supermodel era happened because the girls believed it themselves. In the 80′s it seemed the supermodels went around in real life as if they were in the pages of a magazine. Today it is different though and we are in a different age – I guess today the term supermodel is applied depending if you define a supermodel as someone that works a lot and who the fashion business likes or someone that leaves more of an impression on you.
Which new models do you think have potential to build a long term career? Any future Giseles?
Gisele arrived in a perfect moment. I dont really see that sort of girl right now but i am waiting to discover the new one.
The Winter Queen – Xiao Wen Ju, Christopher Goh Styling by Sarajane Hoare
With digital and moving image the possibilities are, of course, greater, but I find people will always need to sell their clothes through photography.
You are known for your high gloss images, but also for your uncanny ability at capturing powerful spontaneous moments like in the William & Kate portrait, something that should translate really well into the real-time visual culture that is emerging from platforms like Instagram. Do you think you would ever use such tools professionally?
I live my life through image so Instagram is a powerful platform for me and the people and brands i work with. [editor's note: Mario Testino launched his Instagram account on Nov 11th 2013]
You are constantly traveling and exposed to so many cultures. What is your take on globalization and technology? Do you feel it is homogenizing fashion and culture, or are you seeing interesting new ideas and people emerging that would not have had a chance otherwise?
I find in life one can only embrace change. There is no point in fighting back. There are always new ideas and new people coming out. I find them all the time around the world and it is fabulous that now people can immediately have a voice.
The Grand Masters Tian Yi, Song Xiaochuan (a contemporary master of Chinese opera) Tian Yi’s makeup by James Kaliardos. Song Xiaochuan wears his own costume, with makeup done by himself.
I am inspired by too many to name here and for many, varied reasons. Some inspire me for their long careers, others for their freshness. I like to see as much as possible and everyday. As we speak I am in Beijing going to see some artists.
In an October 2012 interview with the Guardian you have said “my favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity”, which is such an inspiring outlook on life. Where do you see the most possibility and opportunities these days?
I guess South America and Asia are the most dynamic and still changing scenarios so one can experiment. I did a special issue of Brazilian Vogue this year as well as this new issue of Chinese Vogue. I find both brazil and china so inspiring and full of possibilities. But then I also felt this way about spain and france when i did special issues of vogue for them too. One can make possibilities in all sorts of environments as inspiration not only comes from the outside but also from your frame of mind.
Your new exhibit Alta Moda (opening at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute in New York on the 20th November), documenting the traditional clothing of Cusco shows another side of your work – what was your process like for creating those images and how did it differ from what you do when you’re shooting fashion or celebrity?
This was an interesting process because with my Alta Moda pictures I was documenting the costume and the dresses, which are complete with history and tradition from Cusco, one of the highest regions of Peru – that was perhaps the most important aspect about these works. Of course in the work I am perhaps most know for it’s more about the person or the moment that has been created and captured.
Any other big project coming up you can talk about?
I’m starting my next book on men called “sir”
Portrait of a Lady Sui He, Styling by Anastasia Barbieri