“My pictures are my eyes,” Mario Testino once said. “I photograph what I see—and what I want to see.”
Through these eyes, the world is a place of vitality; gazing into them, his subjects are drawn to give up something of the essence of themselves. Over the past two decades, Testino’s view has slowly become a dominant way of seeing fashion. Other photographers have responded by “either aping it or rejecting it,” as his old friend, the Anglo-Irish author Patrick Kinmonth, wrote.
According to Alexandra Shulman of British Vogue, Testino can make you look better than you could hope—”not in your wildest dreams, but at the remotest end of possibility.” Setting himself apart from the leading photographers of the nineties—who brought us heroin chic and the glazed-eyed, detached stare—he captures moments of exuberance and engagement. As he told The Guardian,“Grunge came from a group of English photographers, and they were documenting their own reality. . . . I’m South American—we celebrate life.”
Testino began his photography career after moving to London in 1976. He made a few unsuccessful attempts at college—studying law, economics, and international relations—before going to work for Vickers for a couple of years. He was inspired not so much by a love of photography but by a love of clothes. However, with his first roll of film, taken of two women sitting on a bench in Green Park, he discovered a belief in his own gift.
The fashion industry, on the other hand, wasn’t as quick to recognize his talents. He spent many days sitting in his flat—in a converted X-ray wing of the abandoned Charing Cross Hospital—desperately dialing magazines from his coin-box telephone. “But when you phone fashion editors or art directors,” he told The Mail on Sunday in 1999, “they always say: ‘Call me back in a month, I’m about to go on a trip. . . . I think I learned humility then.” Humility, though, did not stop Testino from chasing editors through the corridors of Vogue House in Hanover Square while they attempted to hide behind clothing rails. (He managed to forge a friendship with one assistant, Lucinda Chambers, who would later become the publication’s fashion director.
It was really hard not too showcase a few hundred images here, but here are some of my favs.