Mario Testino Gets 'In Your Face'

The famed fashion photographer's first U.S. exhibit opens at the Museum of Fine Arts Sunday.

(Mario Testino and Malcom Rogers / Photo by Courtney Hollands)

“In Your Face,” Mario Testino’s debut exhibit in the U.S. opens Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts (a smaller, concurrent show, “British Royal Portraits,” featuring Testino’s photos of the Queen Mother, Princess Diana, and other members of the royal family opens the same day).

The famed fashion photographer sat down with MFA director Malcom Rogers yesterday for a conversation. Here are a few highlights:

Malcom Rogers: You’ve had exhibitions all around the world. How does it feel to be having your United States debut in Boston, which is a very particular place?

Mario Testino: It’s interesting for me, because it almost seems like Boston would be the end of something, rather than the beginning of something, because it’s at a very high level. It’s almost like before you get to Broadway, you do all the other little towns and then you get to the real thing. It’s especially interesting for me when you go around the museum, and see the collections that this museum has, that what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years would stand up to that level. It’s a big achievement for me.

(Kate Moss, London, 2006 © Mario Testino)

Is Gisele’s body really that perfect? Yes, says Testino. Read on for more…

MR: One of the things that you’ve actually taken a lot of interest in has been the exhibition store. And some of the things that are in the exhibition store are books about photographers who’ve had an influence on you.

MT: Obviously there were the gods of fashion photography: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Helmut Newton, for me… I think that it’s inevitable that we have to train our eyes and ourselves. Coming from Peru, it’s not like I had a great training in fashion or photography. I didn’t even know that it could be a real profession, I thought it was something you dabbled in when you had a personal income. The idea of making it into a business came from looking at all these people. I have to say that people like Cecil Beaton influenced me enormously because I saw that he’d done so many books in his career, not only for the work he did in the fashion world, but he covered wars and society and architecture and everything. They’ve been my training, really. And it’s not only been books and photographers, but musicians. That’s why I chose all the CDs in the [museum store] because music is very important to determine where you’re going and define who you are. If you listen to rock or pop or punk, you know where you’re going.

MR: What’s it like to work with Anna Wintour as an editor?

MT: Oh, she’s been amazing to me. I go back with her some 25 years… we go back a long time, when she was at New York magazine. I have to say, she has a quality that many people don’t really see, but she’s the most loyal person there is. She’s a Scorpio like myself, we are very loyal Scorpios. She’s very straightforward, sometimes people take that as a confrontation. I take that in a thankful way.

MR: Someone we’re quite fond of and intrigued by in Boston is a fellow South American, and that’s Gisele Bündchen. Tell us a little bit about this face.

MT: I met her in New York at a casting when she was 17, and I thought that somebody had put the light on in the room at the second she walked in. It was funny because not everybody saw it immediately. I tried to tell the magazines… at the time, girls were really waif-y and skinny with no breasts and no hips, and here comes Gisele, va-va-voom, looking amazing. A year later, all the people that weren’t so sure of her were like, “Oh my god, if we don’t have this girl, we won’t sell magazines.” She’s very lucky, everything’s perfect on her body. When I analyze and retouch my pictures and go through them before they go to a magazine, I scan them, looking for problems. She has no problems. It’s perfect, everything: The skin, the hands, the ankles, the hips — she has been gifted. And, on top of it, she has an energy that’s amazing. She’s fun and kind.

[Editor’s note: Having glimpsed Gisele at close range at last night’s opening party, I concur. She is stunning.]

(Tom Brady, New York, 2012 © Mario Testino)

MR: What about this wicked photograph of her husband [Tom Brady], whom we also admire in Boston, that you took for V Magazine.

MT: I never really met him, not properly. I’d seen him at parties with her. He’s a very, very good-looking man. I’m not a big sports fan — he plays football, right? I’m not a big follower, because you have to be worried about fashion and culture and arts… He’s a very nice person, has all the qualities of a good person, so I thought it would be exciting to bring out another side, an aggressive side. He was amazing. I was like, “I brought this dog, and I’d like this dog to jump on you in a very aggressive way.” And he said OK. And I thought, oh my god, I’d be terrified if somebody asked me to do that. He was a real sport.

(Carmen Kass, Los Angeles, 2008 © Mario Testino)