Mario Testino is best known for photographing Princess Diana for Vanity Fair in 1997, just months before her death. Museum of Fine Arts curator Anne Havinga says Testino was nervous and Diana was stiff, so he asked her to take off her shoes and jewelry and put on some music. He danced. She danced. "That is a talent," Havinga says. The seeming naturalness and intimacy in the photos made them iconic — and launched Testino's career into the stratosphere.
Now Testino is a pre-eminent commercial photographer — shooting covers for Vogue and Vanity Fair, fashion advertisements, and official portraits of the British royal family from Diana to the cuddly engagement shot of her son Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2010.
"Being a fashion photographer is a difficult job," says Havinga, who is bringing "In Your Face," a survey of his career, plus a companion exhibit of "British Royal Portraits" to the MFA. "They have to respond to the desires of the editor or the fashion house, and they have to encapsulate the dreams of the public. . . . He's a master of it."
Born in 1954, Testino grew up in Lima, Peru, before transplanting to London, where he concocted his frothy mix of fame, sex, and surface glamour. "There's just tons of energy in his pictures," Havinga says. "The people in his pictures almost seem to lean out at you."
The MFA showcases fashion and celebrity photos as well as informal behind-the-scenes party pics: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady trading snarls with a Doberman for the September issue of VMan
magazine, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Josh Hartnett in lipstick, Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez regal in a blue gown walking a pack of Dobermans, Gisele Bündchen slinking out of the back of a Rolls Royce; Mariah Carey, Donatella Versace, and Beyoncé Knowles dining in Milan; and Testino's "muse," Kate Moss.
"He's older than she [Moss], but their careers started at the same time," Havinga says. "She's not just a beautiful woman. She has a sense of drama and role playing."
When he photographs the gorgeous and famous, as Testino himself often tells interviewers, he labors to "make them look their best." "People often talk about his incredible charm," Havinga says, "and it's true."
MARIO TESTINO :: Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave, Boston :: October 21–February 3 ("In Your Face") and October 21–June 16 ("British Royal Portraits") :: mfa.org