If someone asks you who is the most influential fashion photographer, the answer probably will be Mario Testino, an iconic figure in fashion and portrait photography. The most striking feature of his photography is to catch the spirit of the moment. Testino’s exquisite touch makes fleeting instants in his photo look like once-in-a-lifetime instants. Those instants are extremely pure and unique, and sometimes it causes you to think that his photos were taken by accident, without any manipulation. Not only his work has been featured in many global fashion magazines, but also he has sculpted and contributed to the imagery of fashion giants such as Gucci, Burberry, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, and Michael Kors, among many others.
Testino was born in Lima, Peru. From an early age, he was interested in fashion, images, and creating new looks. When he was in his early 20’s, he moved to London to focus on his career in fashion photography.
However, success was not instant for him and he struggled to get work for a lot of years. He had no money so he found a flat in an abandoned hospital which was a home for alcoholics and vagrants. Testino worked as a waiter in a restaurant for a living. After a few months, he realized that he had to begin earning a living in a different way. He started doing test shoots for young models in his spare time, and he created portfolios for wannabe models for 25 pounds, including hair and make up.
Before long, magazines started contacting him because they’d seen the books of the young models he had done tests of, so they wanted to see what he was doing. He acquired self-confidence steadily, and began working as a professional fashion photographer. His next encounters had a strong influence on his career. In 1995, Madonna was supposed to shoot an ad campaign for Versace later that year. One day, she was reading a fashion magazine, and Testino’s photos caught her eye immediately. Despite Richard Avedon had already been booked to shoot the campaign, she contacted Testino directly and asked him to shoot her photos. this incident made Testino who was at the time one of many decent photographers a big star.
Testino recalls that “she was the first one who asked to be photographed by me. She spotted my work in a magazine. She’d been booked to do Versace by Richard Avedon and something didn’t go right and she asked Versace if she could do it with me and I was really unknown at the time out of our business. I was doing OK within the fashion business but it’s only when I photographed Madonna that I became known outside of my business and people on the street started to hear my name. When I delivered the photos to Gianni Versace he said that I really understood how to photograph clothes because he said it’s a talent that few people really have — how to make a dress look the best it can possibly look. He decided to put on the first page where he introduces the whole photograph that we had done, he wrote in Vanity Fair, in Vogue: “Versace presents ‘Madonna by Testino.'” At the time I said to him, “Don’t you think it’s a bit pretentious to put my name?” He said, “Yeah, but it’s my choice. It’s me putting it, not you.” That had a big impact on my business.”
He became a brand, working for the world’s top fashion magazines and fashion houses in New York, Paris and Milan. His popularity grew as rapidly as the trends he followed. In 1997, Testino received universal attention when Princess Diana asked him he photograph her picture for a Vanity Fair cover story. With Princess Diana’s tragic death later that year, these Diana’s last official photos became defining photos of the times, and his career reached a point from which there was no retreat.
He has given new life to many fashion brands thanks to his unique style. Not limited to the fashion world, Testino’s works have produced the some of the iconic images of an era, and has been exhibited successfully in galleries and museums around the world. He is now getting into the sixties, and becoming the doyen of fashion photography. However, even these days, He constantly travels all over the world and tries to capture anyone he photographs at their happiest.
Research by Chloe Park