Only the great Mario Testino could bring a mix of glamorous fanfare, and high-minded art to Boston that is the “In Your Face” exhibit. The photographs feels completely glamorous, and while heading to the museum, I got excited knowing that I would be standing in front of photos that supermodels Gisele Bundchen, Joan Smalls, and Karlie Kloss had schmoozed in front of only weeks earlier during exhibit’s premiere. This exhibit surpassed my expectations. The life-size photographs exhibited are a perfect marriage of celebrity, haute couture, and art rolled into one.
When I arrived at the museum, I assumed that the exhibit would be installed in a gallery on the first floor; I also assumed that medium-sized photos would be hung on stark white walls under blaring studio lights. The exhibit is instead installed in the lower floor. The entrance to the exhibit it itself felt quite exclusive. I imagined a red carpet on the marble stairs down to the lower level. Several video screens are installed at the landing of the stairs, which run behind-the-scenes footage of Testino’s photoshoots. The anticipation continued to build as I watched the flashing lights of Testino’s camera and listened as celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Emma Watson testified to the greatness of this photographer.
I then entered the exhibit through glass doors and was hit by the gorgeous green dress, and futuristic headgear worn by Patricia Schmid for a British Vogue 2005 editorial. To the right of this photo, Lady Gaga was in a magenta hood, with burnt bronzed skin, and a bleached blond bob-wig. The colors and the images struck me all at once.
As I made my way around the exhibit I was struck by several themes in Testino’s work. It seems as though growing up exotic Peru inspired Testino to capture the world’s most notable and beautiful in exotic locales such as Budapest, Brazil, or Marrakesh. The azure-blue walls of the exhibit, and the larger than life-sized photos, added to my feelings that I had somehow left the hum-drum of Boston and was instead on a yacht with Testino, stopping at all the fabulous locations. The native people served as backdrop in many of the works shot in exotic locations, usually on the left-side of the photographs. An amazon-like model, dressed in the garbs of the native people, somehow remained the focal point on the rightside of the photo. The photo of Karlie Kloss shot in Beijing for Vogue 2011 is a perfect example of this composition. Other photos emphasized the beauty of the saturated colors of the fashion designs. The photos are anything but static, and there is movement and activity, inspired perhaps by Testino’s early love for cinema—which I learned of on one of the walls in the exhibit.
The black and white celebrity photos capture spontaneous moments of celebrities laughing and embracing one another at dinners or after parties. One got the feeling from these photos that celebrities hanging out together was as grand and glamorous as one might think it would be in their head. From Testino’s other celebrity photographs, I realized that he had been the one to shoot photos of celebrities in some of their most pivotal or scandalous moments in life. For instance, Testino shot Jennifer Aniston for the highly anticipated spread to her exclusive Vanity Fair September 2005 cover. The cover at the time was a bit sensational as he shot Ms. Aniston wearing only a men’s white long-sleeved button up. I remember this cover being talked about because Aniston opened up to the difficulties of her life after the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-circus. It also seemed that after that Vanity Fair spread Aniston was inspired to do several other nude covers, (one of which was her later GQ November 2005 ‘Man of the Year’ cover).
The Jennifer Aniston cover was one of the less scandalous nudes that I experienced in the exhibit. One that I found quite alarming was a Gucci ad in which the Gucci logo was shaved into the pubic hair of a model. Other nudes were “pushing the boundary” so to speak, not because models such as Naomi Campbell or Gisele Bundchen were nude, but moreso because of the positioning of the models. They were either laid seductively on the bed, as Gisele is in a Vanity Fair May 2009 photo, appearing to awaken after post-coital, or a man and a woman in a lustful embrace, kissing passionately. It was the illuminated style in which Testino shot nude models, which inspired fashion editor Carine Rotifield to suggest that he shoot his fashion photos with the same lighting and life he gave to nude photos. This advice helped Testino to sooner after get his first big commission with French Glamour.
The nude photos are not alarming because the female bodies are all idealized beauties—tanned skin that glistened, thin frames, elongated abdomens and legs, small breasts, and billowing hair. He tries to capture in a woman a vivaciousness he experienced when he would party with “two sophisticated older girls” as a teenager in Peru. Supermodel Bundchen, whose career he helped to build, is the type of vivacious woman he finds such qualities.
When I left the exhibit, although I had relished the experience of the celebrity andthe glossiness of the photos, I felt my eyes readjusting to the reality in which I live. The Testino exhibit presents the world as glossily as he sees it. As he once stated “My pictures are my eyes…I photograph what I see—and what I want to see.” The stark white walls, and small postcards of the larger than life Testino photographs in the adjoining gift store, freed my eyes to fashion reality according to my own imagination once again.