This name is fairly new to me as I’ve only started to encounter him as I am working through my gargantuan list of influential artistic minds from the past and present. It’s nice to have a name again of a person that is alive and working this day so one can keep a look out for his latest creations – and who knows – maybe even one day to meet him!
Marion Testino was born on born on the 30th of October 1954 and he grew up in Lima, Peru, as the eldest son of seven children to an Italian father and an Irish mother. When he was young, he wanted to be a priest. Testino recalls not being popular at school because of his flamboyance. He went to study economics at Lima University, where his insistence on wearing pink flares and platform heels around the campus ensured that everyone knew his name. In 1976 he went to London to study photography. He lived in an unconverted floor of a hospital where he funded himself by working as a waiter. He had his hair dyed pink which helped him get noticed as a photographer.
Testino has shot fashion stories for Vogue,V, Gucci, and Vanity Fair. Celebrity subjects have most famously included Diana, Princess of Wales and her sons. Other subjects have included many actresses such as Kim Basinger, Emma Watson, Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, models such as Tyra Banks, Claudia Schiffer, Gisele Bündchen, Elizabeth Hurley, and Kate Moss, performers such as Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga, and public figures like Baroness Thatcher.
Living in London, he continues to photograph the British Royal Family as well as contributing to the image development of Burberry, Gucci, Zara, Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Estée Lauder, Valentino and Versace.He and fashion stylist Carine Roitfeld are credited for drawing significant attention to the house of Gucci through provocative ad campaigns in the mid-1990s, which, along with Tom Ford’s designs, eventually led to the revival of Gucci as a major fashion house. In December 2010, Testino took the engagement photos of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Testino has become one of the world’s most well known and celebrated fashion photographers and his work has been featured across the globe. As well as having published seven books of his work and edited one other dedicated to contemporary art and artists from his native Peru, Mario Testino has had many successful exhibitions in various galleries and museums. He has been lauded with a number of awards and recognitions for his achievements and charitable work, counting among them a Doctor Emeritus from the University of the Arts, London, the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award, the Medalha Tiradentes from the city of Rio de Janerio, Brazil and the Order of Merit from the city of Lima, Peru.
Although he inevitably makes many of his subjects look glamorous, even beautiful, he is in fact concerned with the deeper question of identity. His early work was influenced by the photography of Cecil Beaton. Testino recalls:
I discovered through trial and error that I could manipulate the light by tearing holes in paper stuck on the window panes to model the face of the person I was photographing. I did not use flash because it was beyond me technically and far too expensive. When eventually I could afford to work with an assistant I found one who was excellent at lighting.
Before he had proper paid work in photography Testino concentrated on the figure using simple daylight, ‘unlocking the secrets of how to enhance its beauty using a camera’. Testino has made his fame and fortune from the world of fashion and style and has, himself, insisted that his work is not art, but commerce. Perhaps, as Patrick Kinmonth points out, ‘he has made an art of commerce in the creation of his trademark – a particular nonchalant sensual beauty’.
In his role as a Save the Children ambassador he has raised money to build a playground in a Moscow children’s hospital specialising in cancer (because that was the disease his brother died of at the age of 10). In Lima, he opened a children’s clinic intended to help victims of the 2007 earthquake. Yet Testino does not consider himself a saint, though he says, “But doing these charitable things has made me feel that I have got some of the priestly instinct back. I know people who have everything and all they do is complain and bicker. Give off negative energy. When you try and do something positive it helps others but also makes you feel better about yourself.”
In 2008 Testino donated a sitting at Elton John’s White Tie and Tiara Ball. It went for a staggering $1.8million bought by a Ukrainian businessman. The ball was for Aids victims, another charity he feels close to his heart because he had many friends die of Aids.
Currently, Testino is exclusively represented by Art Partner.
My favourite images: