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Interview: Mario Testino

The intimate moments behind a whirlwind of glossy covers and a look at the illustrious life of an acclaimed lensman

by CH Contributor in Culture on 27 February 2013

by Vivianne Lapointe

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Less than a month after the closing of "In Your Face," a dedicated retrospective at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, acclaimed fashion photographer Mario Testino unveils a series of never-before-published images carefully curated from his personal portfolio. The evocative selection encompasses favorite outtakes from the past 30 years of his prolific career, for an inside look at both his work to date and the artist himself.

The man worshipped globally for his mastery of glamour opens up about his favorite subject and the genesis of this new exhibition set at Prism Gallery in Los Angeles: "Desire. I feel like a lot of these image have to do with desire. The idea of what we build our dreams on. Whether they're things that belong to our everyday lives like a Coca Cola, a sensual moment or a beach—they have a lot to do with what we thrive for."

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We're talking lascivious love scenes in the park, velvet interiors, diamond panties, Brazilian derrières and, of course, the timeless Kate Moss, his long time muse, whom he's shot with over a thousand times. "I've known her for 15 years and she is one of the most fascinating people I know. What I particularly love about her is that she's never let go of that innocence from the beginnings—that curiosity and that appreciation and that thankfulness to life. I find a lot of people get lost in success. They lose track, and she hasn't."

He hints that it is a similar attitude that allows him to stay inspired and consistent, constantly redefining himself as a photographer. "I can't help it really, because I am curious and every single day I want to reach at least the level of emotion that I felt yesterday."

For Testino, the past decade has surely been thrilling; a whirlwind of glossy covers and advertising campaigns for the world's most prestigious luxury brands. "I feel very lucky because I am given a lot of artistic freedom, but commercial work still means you are commissioned to do a photograph to sell something in particular, whether it be a dress or a perfume or whatever it is."

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In this fine art series, he enjoys his freedom of expression to the fullest. The photos exhibited are often sultry, sometimes outrageous and undeniably intimate. "Most of these pictures belong to moments when nobody has asked me to do anything. It's just my own need to capture something, to document something, to communicate. They have no reason to exist apart from the fact that I decided to create them."

Like many photographers, Testino is obsessed with documenting life. "But I always go to document something that I've already thought of in my mind. I go to a particular place to find what I'm looking for. It's not random," he explains. "I went somewhere last night and hated not having my camera," he admits. The artist famous for saying "My pictures are my eyes," even implies quite literally he wishes he owned a pair of Google Glass, which would allow him to just snap picture of what he sees through the augmented reality eyeglass lenses.

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Back in his native Peru, where he has been spending more and more time lately, Testino has launched a new arts foundation, Asociación Mario Testino, to house a large collection of his photography and showcase the work of local up-and-comers. "I'm one of those people who can smell what's going to happen. I could feel the momentum of Brazil coming. I found Gisele and a lot of other girls, and started working there a lot. And Peru is coming to this moment. Something is happening there that's very exciting."

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Speaking of exciting, when we asked him what his favorite thing is about Oscars weekend in LA, he swiftly answered, all smiles: "The Vanity Fair party in LA. I love it because everybody comes from the awards show. It's got a certain energy of exhilaration of success and happiness, and it's quite wonderful because I've been working with the magazine for so long and I know most of the people. It becomes an intimate affair for me. It's weird to say this about such a public event, but you know, when you spend your life photographing famous people, those are the people you spend your life with."

And indeed, a party with Testino often looks a lot like the stimulating images he so successfully creates.

Testino's latest exhibit runs from 26 February 2013 to 30 March 2013 at Prism Gallery. Images courtesy of Mario Testino and Marie-Joelle Parent

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