The City of Boston “seduced” internationally renowned photographer Mario Testino, the artist told the Boston Globe. And on Oct. 21, he came back to seduce the local crowd with his first exhibits in the United States at the Museum of Fine Arts, with “Mario Testino: In Your Face” in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery, and “British Royal Portraits” in the Herb Ritts Gallery. The exhibits uncover the special bond between Testino and his subjects and art.
“I am honored to be invited by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to exhibit my work in these two exhibitions, my first in the United States,” Testino said in a statement released by the MFA. “These exhibitions are a very personal reflection of the past 30 years in which I have been a photographer.”
Testino chose 122 photographs, ranging from candid prints of Hollywood celebrities to eccentric Vanity Fair prints for the showcase.
“Mario Testino’s images are full of color, movement, and provocation. He is one of the greatest and most mercurial image makers of our time, and we are pleased to present the first US exhibitions of his works,” said Malcolm Rogers, director of the Ann and Graham Gund gallery, in the statement.
Jose Coto, 30, is one of the many visitors who anticipated Testino’s exhibition in Boston ever since he saw Testino’s work five years ago at an exhibit in Mexico City.
“I like fashion, celebrities and beauty. You can find all those three elements [in Testino’s works],” Coto said.
Compared to the serene dining area directly above the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery, “In Your Face” is strikingly lively. The 16 screens mounted on the wall welcome visitors with backstage footage of Testino’s photo sessions. Estonian supermodel Carmen Kass’s grey-blue eyes stare provocatively at visitors entering the exhibit, and the vibrant, red-orange hue of the entire print contrasts against the teal-colored walls. The exhibition of portraits is just as its title claims it to be: in your face.
The clever placement of the prints, some as big as 8 by 6 feet and others as small as 1 by 2 feet, emphasize one of the photographer’s defining style, contradiction. The unexpected combinations of a fashion model and a sumo wrestler caught in a deadlock or Kate Moss in a feminine dress with British guards are surprising at first. However, unlike many innocuous portraits and scenery photographs, Testino’s portraits transcend the prints and seem to reach out to the viewers directly, demanding them to decipher the art.
Another print that rightfully demands such attention is Josh Hartnett’s portrait taken in 2005. Clad in a white suit with his hair slicked back, Hartnett looks into the camera intently, his eyes lined with black eyeliner and voluminous false eyelashes as he messily applys red lipstick.
Testino said in an interview with the New York Times that he set Hartnett in “this louche way” to show “the security of the man and that he has no qualms with the way people think of him.” The final product reinforces Testino’s idea of art having the ability to “transcend sexuality.” Testino successfully created the unexpected and the contradictory. His quotes are painted on the teal-colored walls. One particularly striking quote reads, “I push boundaries – to provoke, to break down perfection, to find the unique moment. That’s what makes the photograph work for me.”
The images showcase iconic figures like Madonna, Gisele Bündchen, Alexander McQueen and Kate Moss. Each image captures glimpses of the icons’ lives. Many of the portraits, especially Kate Winslet’s, resonate with elegance and organic beauty. In contrast, many of the candid photos take a more humorous look at the models’ emotions and expressions of that particular second. For instance, the image of model Karlie Kloss, jewelry designer Bao Bao Wan and Shaolin monks immediately engages the viewer to the print, as it shines with humor, energy and movement.
One of the many impressive works in the gallery is the black and white nude portraits. The expression of actress Demi Moore taken in 2003, uses the soft light to give a slight tenderness to the image. In contrast to the bold black-and-white portraits in “In Your Face,” most of the black-and-white portraits in “British Royal Portraits” give off a warm, sentimental feel.
Princess Diana of Wales’ portrait for Vanity Fair in 1997 outshines the portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, better known as Prince William and Kate Middleton, not just because of the larger size of the print, but also because Testino captured a slight smile from Diana. This faint smile, later realized to be the last formal photograph taken before her death, shows how Testino can connect to his subjects in a way that can bring out their intimate expressions. Although Testino says his photographs are the product of collaboration, there is no denying that his vision of the regality and tradition of the British Royalty is perfectly reflected in the simple yet powerful portraits.
The fact that Testino’s works features celebrities and icons universally known makes the exhibit an intimate experience. Lili Jacobs, a sophomore psychology major, who was visiting the exhibit with her father, said that the fact that “everyone knows who’s in the photos” makes people attracted to Testino’s photography.
Jacobs said she was particularly captivated by the image of Tom Brady because Testino caught the moment when Brady and the dog next to him made the same growling face. Testino is a highly talented photographer; he presents pop culture through a mixture of art, fashion and as Testino said as quoted on the exhibit walls, “the immediacy” of photojournalism.
As Rogers said, the gallery itself is a “work of art.” “Mario Testino: In Your Face” is open to the public until Feb. 3, 2013 and “Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits” is open until June 16, 2013.