Mario Testino OBE is one of the most influential fashion and portrait photographers of our time. His photographic oeuvre has graced esteemed museums across the globe, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum in Tokyo, among others. Over his illustrious 40-year career, Testino has distinguished himself as a photographer and made significant contributions as a creative director, guest editor, museum founder, art collector, collaborator, and entrepreneur. In the realms of fashion and beauty, Testino is a visionary force contributing to the success of many luxury brands, creating images for the likes of Gucci, Burberry, Versace and CHANEL, Estée Lauder and Dolce & Gabbana, and his photographs have graced the pages of countless renowned international publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair.

In his latest series, "A Beautiful World," Testino offers a captivating exploration of diverse cultures and traditions, capturing emblematic imagery that delves into the rich tapestry of cultures and traditions from different communities worldwide.

Born in Lima in 1954 to a traditional Catholic family, remote from the worlds of fashion and Hollywood, Testino moved from Peru to London in 1976. It was during apprenticeships at the studios of John Vickers and Paul Nugent that he made his first attempts as a photographer, inspired by how photography masters documented the society of their times. During the early nineties, Testino looked to his experience growing up in Peru and his long teenage summers in Brazil for inspiration, which helped him to create a unique and personal photographic language: “I noticed an evolution in my work…when I tried to recreate my youth in pictures.”[1]

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Testino’s is an artistic vocabulary that has always transgressed gender, mixing and defying masculinity and femininity and suggests sensuality rather than sexuality. Suzy Menkes, Vogue’s Former International Editor explains, “Testino’s skill is first and foremost to catch the moment and to bring out the humanity in his subjects.”[2] His subjects appear confidently alive; he captures their energy by creating openness. Known for the extraordinary way in which he can capture private moments, Testino’s spontaneous, intimate portraits offer the viewer new perspectives on famous faces, often establishing new fashion icons. He has documented subjects from A-list stars, muses, supermodels and artists, to subjects that he has encountered throughout his travels, adding to his A Beautiful World series.

Testino was nicknamed the “John Singer Sargent of our times” by Terence Pepper, photography curator at The National Portrait Gallery in London.[3] The Gallery’s 2002 Portraits exhibition attracted more visitors than any other show in the museum’s history at the time. Charles Saumarez Smith, then director of the NPG, compared Testino to court artists and portraitists from Holbein to Reynolds. “There is a strong relationship between Mario’s work and the general tradition of portrait artists. Just like court artists in the past, he works to a tight timetable and significant commercial constraints.”[4]

One of Testino’s most memorable sittings to this day is his series with Diana, Princess of Wales. Commissioned for Vanity Fair in 1997, he said: “One of my greatest experiences in life was photographing Princess Diana. It’s not only that the experience itself was amazing, but she opened a door for me because I then started photographing the royal families of Europe. It is part of my love for tradition and family”. He has photographed many royals including The Prince of Wales, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the King and Queen of Jordan and King and Queen of the Netherlands, The Crown Prince and The Crown Princess of Denmark, among others.

Within the realm of philanthropy, Testino attributes a significant portion of his charitable pursuits to the influence of the Princess of Wales. Over the span of several decades, his philanthropic efforts have expanded to encompass numerous charities and causes. "Diana wasnt only the one to introduce me to other royals, but she also served as a profound source of inspiration for my philanthropic endeavours, which I hadn't previously considered due to my preoccupation with ensuring food was on the table. When she revealed that she was donating the profits from the sale of her clothes to charity, I followed suit and donated proceeds from the sale of my photographs towards charitable causes," Testino reflected.

A highlight of his charitable undertakings launched in October 2016, when he opened the Parques Teresita playground in association with Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation in the Provincial Municipality of Urubamba, located in Cusco, Peru. Parques Teresita is named after Testino’s late mother. The second Parques Teresita was opened in January 2019 in Ayacucho, at the Municipality of Huamanga. A third park was opened in March 2023 in Alto Selva Alegre, in Arequipa. It is estimated that the first two parks have impacted over 20 thousand families.

Testino has worked with Save the Children, amfAR, The Elton John Aids Foundation and CLIC Sargent for children with cancer. The arts are such a source of joy to Testino to the extent that in 2012, he opened a non-profit museum in Lima: MATE – Museo Mario Testino. MATE was established to contribute to Peru through the cultivation and promotion of culture and heritage. For Testino, art is never static. It is something to be appreciated and collected as fragments that make up a more significant mental library: a library in constant flow.

Aaron Hicklin of The Observer described him as “the world’s most prolific magazine and fashion trade photographer”[5] . His persistence in shooting Gisele Bundchen and Kate Moss is widely credited with elevating their supermodel status. Testino started the Towel Series on his Instagram account in 2013, featuring influential people, including musicians, actors and models. In 2018 he started his A Beautiful World series to raise awareness of the value and beauty of cultural heritage all around the world.

Testino's extensive body of work has been celebrated in over twenty published books, including notable titles such as "Portraits" (National Portrait Gallery, 2002), "Let Me In!" (Taschen, 2007), “Kate Moss by Mario Testino” (Taschen, 2010), "In Your Face" (Taschen, 2012), "Alta Moda" (Museo MATE, 2013), "SIR" (Taschen, 2015), "Undressed" (Taschen, 2017), and "Ciao"(Taschen, 2020). Testino's artistry has been exhibited at renowned museums worldwide: the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin ("Undressed" 2017), the National Portrait Gallery in London (“British Royal Portraits” 2013), MALBA in Argentina (In Your Face"2012), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston ("In Your Face" 2012), the Shanghai Art Museum ("Private View" 2012), to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid ("Todo o Nada" 2010), Museo San Ildefonso in Mexico (“Portraits” 2007) the Metropolitan Museum in Tokyo ("Portraits" 2004), Foam in Amsterdam ("Portraits" 2003) and Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) in São Paulo (“Fashion Photographs” 1998). Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented at galleries such as Hamiltons Gallery in London (“East”, 2019), Phillips de Pury in London, Yvon Lambert in Paris and Timothy Taylor in London.

His growing personal collection of artworks, ranging from painting to sculpture and photography, has also been the subject of numerous shows. Testino’s relationship with fine art developed after frequent visits to galleries and artist’s studios. He said: “Just as photography is a vehicle for me to live a new moment, to go to a new place, meet a new person and so on, art is a process of encounter and discovery. For me, the display of art is not just about seeing the work isolated in a white cube. It’s also about engaging with the art – and sometimes the artist – to make something new.” [6] He has collaborated with artists such as Keith Haring, Vik Muniz, John Currin, and Julian Schnabel to create some unique works.

Testino was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2014 and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2017, both in recognition of his career and charity work. In 2007, the state of Rio de Janeiro awarded him the Tiradentes medal for exceptional public service, and in 2010, he was appointed one of the highest honours in his native country, The Grand Cross rank of the Order of Merit of Peru for Distinguished Services.

Click here for the CV of Mario Testino. June 2024

Second image credit: On the Street……Mario Testino, Milano by Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist, 4th March, 2009.
[1] Interview with Mario Testino, August 2014
[2] Mario Testino at 30 Years by Suzy Menkes, published in The New York Times, 2nd October, 2011.
[3] Mario Testino at 30 Years by Suzy Menkes, published in The New York Times, 2nd October, 2011.
[4] Mario Testino: It’s not all glamour by Nigel Farndale, published in The Telegraph, 24th February, 2009.
[5] Mario Testino interview: the man who makes models super, by Aaron Hicklin, published in The Observer, 21st October, 2012.
[6] Mario Testino, Interview with Neville Wakefield for Somos Libres, MATE – Museo Mario Testino, 2013


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