In October 2021 I attended the first major solo exhibition in Milan dedicated to the renowned artist and photographer Mario Testino. The exhibition was structured into two parts; I was able to attend only the first one because I was very busy with work by the time the second one was available for the public to see (it enclosed a body of intimate snapshots and authentic moments from the photographer’s life with some people that have positively influenced his career).
The gallery presented some of Mario Testino’s most significant works in large format, including a body of unpublished works, available in new formats and editions, for a total of fifty works carefully selected by the gallery directors and Testino himself.
I found this exhibition very interesting and insightful because it showcased a variety of iconic and previously unseen shots of the photographer’s muses, like Sienna Miller and Cara Delevingne. Mario Testino is one of the most famous and talented fashion photographers in the world. Peruvian-born, he started his career in London in the 1970s, when he began to collaborate with magazines like Vogue, Glamour, GQ and Vanity Fair. Over the years, he has worked with known and talented fashion designers like Versace, Gucci, Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana. When I was a teenager, I really loved the campaigns he did with Burberry at the time, especially the campaign shoot with Emma Watson for Burberry Fall/Winter 2009/10. I also own his book “Diana: Princess of Wales”, which he published with Taschen in 2006, following the eponymous exhibition at Kensington Palace in 2005 (my grandma loved Princess Diana and the book was one of her favorite).
Mario Testino has also taken numerous portraits of international stars like Naomi Campbell, Julia Roberts, Madonna and Gisele Bündchen. Some of these portraits were included in the “Mario Testino: Unfiltered” exhibition in Milan, with other unreleased shots.
There was also a section dedicated to the photographer’s love for Italy, with a selection of works from the recent “Ciao” publishing project in collaboration with Taschen. Around the time of the exhibition, Mario Testino said: “Discovering Italy was a powerful experience that captured my imagination. I felt a deep connection with everything I saw around me. I loved the people, the landscape, the architecture and the fact that art and beauty were naturally, simply part of life.”
His works have been showcased in museums around the world including London’s National Portrait Gallery and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; some of his works are part of the V&A Museum’s permanent collection in London as well.
One of the photographer’s main goals has always been to explore cultural identity in order to enhance the beauty of diversity. In his travels, Mario Testino promotes the cultural tradition of the places he is visiting and is committed to the preservation of the cultural heritage of a people or a nation, with a focus on the lands of South America, where he comes from.
I love Testino’s photographs because I deeply appreciate his choice for strong lights and vivid colors; his style has often been described as “luxury realism”, because his technique enhances the people portrayed in his photographs, while at the same time he manages to preserve the most notable traits of their personality.
The “Ode to Italy” section was one of the most fascinating to see, with portraits of famous people taken in Italy. Mario Testino’s love for my country has probably been influenced by his origins, since his grandfather came from the Italian region of Liguria; while promoting this exhibition, he told VNY Magazine: “I feel a bit Italian, also because I consider it the most beautiful country in the world. I have never lived in Italy, because when I was 19 I left Peru and went to London, and that’s where I started my career as a photographer. But I also have to say that since my early English years, I always spent my vacations in Italy. I fell in love with this country, and I have never thanked it enough because, thanks to my Italian origins, I had an Italian passport, and so this perhaps helped me more in my career.”
I was very enthusiastic about this section of the exhibition and would love to purchase Mario Testino’s Taschen book “Ciao”, an homage to Italy through the lens of his camera that is also a very personal journey across the country.
The exhibition was free to the public and while I loved it, I wished I had been able to attend the second part as well so I hope there will be another retrospective about his additional works in the near future.
Thank you to the people at 29 Arts in Progress gallery for their kindness and for being available to answer any questions I had; I booked via email and the person in charge of my booking was very helpful and quick to reply.
Mario Testino’s quote about Italy was extracted from an interview he did with VNY La Voce di New York Magazine “Mario Testino and That Luxury Realism of the Shot that Anticipates Fashion” in occasion of the second part of “Mario Testino: Unfiltered” in Milan.
All pictures are my own.
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