Mario Testino. This generation’s Avedon, Parks or Newton. At the top of his game, the Peruvian native and Vogue contributor shares with us his life – both professional and personal, the quirks of growing up and hanging out with ‘the weirdos of Lima’, his industry friendships, his struggles and successes, and the pivotal moments of his career. But not before he snaps a memento shot of the audience with his modest digital camera pulled from his pocket.
Having made unexpected forays into economics, law and international relations before finally joining a photography school in London, we quickly learnt that Mario growing up was as bright as they come (even if he was indecisive about his studies). And contrary to what one may have thought, his self-proclaimed mathematician’s mind is one aspect to thank for his massive success; algebra and logic (his favourite subjects), were about ‘making a big problem into a small problem’ – sometimes on set, ‘the girl you booked may not be what you thought, an actress may have put on a few pounds’ – but you find ways to make it work.
A calm and friendly temperament seems to be what he’s known for, as well as making his subjects look good, he makes them feel good too. He’s quick to politely brush off any grand claims – he certainly doesn’t wake up ‘knowing he’s fabulous’ nor agree with the fact he is ‘the biggest fashion photographer of his generation’ – but come on, that last one’s hard to argue with. His passion for his craft and obsession with creating an image ‘that lingers’ is of the utmost of importance. We learnt that unlike so many photographers, especially of his calibre, he gives a copy of the image to each of his subjects. There is no room for ego. Put simply, a photographer can make the image about themselves or focus on bringing out the best in his subject. He opts for the latter – undoubtedly adding a powerful authenticity to his images.
Long time friend and collaborator Lucinda Chambers counts his adapting style as a major contributor to his popularity and consistent high demand – Testino himself notes the hardest thing once you get your foot through the door is to remain relevant. Poverty stricken and struggling to get by as a waiter in London in the eighties, it was almost a decade before anyone really wanted him or his work. I was reminded of the budding fashion photographer (barely into his twenties) I had briefly met before the talk started, who had shared with me the already impressive headway he was making, when Testino started to get fussed about the fact that people looking to get into the industry don’t expect to pay their dues anymore. Understandable, given the years of major risk taking by giving up reliable catalogue work to pursue a route that granted him more creative freedom and input. Clearly the waiting paid off.
Like other talks over the weekend, energy ran high, and it seemed more like we were being let it on a gossip between old friends – Testino admitted he’d been nervous but makes it a mantra of his to enjoy all 365 days out of the year. Chambers revealed that she often has to reign him in on shoots as he’s always thinking ahead. It’s an exciting quality for those of us who thrive and build our knowledge on the fantasy of his images, and equally good to know that this modern legend won’t stop wowing us anytime soon.