The Mario Testino timeline goes like this. Born in Lima, Peru in 1954, the renowned photographer spent his days on the school bus staring out of the window.
Shouting ‘Mira Mira’ (which translates to ‘look look’) to his friends, he was frustrated to find that the sight would always have gone out of view by the time the other kids looked.
Equally frustrated by the lack of opportunities in his hometown, he set off to London in 1976 to kickstart a career that will go down in the fashion history books.
Slumming it in an abandoned hospital with young creatives including former British Vogue fashion director, Lucinda Chambers, Testino made a living selling model portfolios for £25 a go.
Eventually, his talents led him to the pages of Vogue then into the royal household with his 1997 portraits of Princess Diana becoming the royal’s most memorable photograph.
He, along with Tom Ford, is also responsible for reinvigorating Gucci with *that* pubic hair campaign and has photographed almost every campaign for brands including Burberry, Michael Kors and Dolce & Gabbana.
Pinning Mario Testino down for an interview is a pretty hard task. After all, this is the guy who spends most of his life on a plane, travelling to a new country every three or four days.
But he’s eager to talk about something close to his heart: Mira Mira. The online platform was created in 2016 as a way for the photographer to make sure everything he sees doesn’t just disappear as it did all those years ago.
Showcasing a behind-the-scenes look into his admittedly glamorous life, Mira Mira is celebrating its first birthday today.
The freedom-first site houses several series including Under The Towel – a look at the untold stories behind Testino’s famous Towel Series -, Director’s Cuts – a collection spanning everything from Testino’s Christmas card to supermodel language lessons -, and podcast series On the Sofa which has so far spoken to the photographer’s muses and friends such as Kate Moss, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner.
Why give yourself extra work when you’re already one of the fashion industry’s most in-demand photographers? “For 35 years, I’ve worked through my editors and clients. It’s always, at the end of the day, their voice,” Testino tells Yahoo Style UK.
“To express solely my voice, I’ve published my books, but I feel there are limitations with books because you can only reach a certain amount of people. Online, I can reach millions.”
Testino’s interest in the digital world was first aroused in a conversation with ex-Burberry CEO and Apple’s new Senior Vice President of Retail, Angela Ahrendts. The tech titan encouraged him to get on Facebook asap before he got left behind.
From there, he jumped onto the Instagram hype, starting his account in 2013 and earning over 3 million followers since.
“There’s something about sharing that I find very interesting, and very of today. So it makes sense to put my content, or content that I find interesting, online,” the photographer continues. “We now have so much more access to things, through everyone’s social media, then before. People are more curious and feel they should be able to see these things.”
“That ‘veil’ between what’s in front of the camera and what’s behind has become thinner and thinner, so people want to now see every detail of a shoot or a fashion show, from the styling and the sets to how the hair and make-up is applied.”
“Four years ago, people still thought social media was going to ruin ‘real’ photography. But social media has given Mario a chance to connect with his fans. We view Mira Mira as the logical next step for us, the chance to proactively create digital content and pursue digital projects,” adds Suki Larson, CEO of Testino’s agency MARIOTESTINO+.
“Mario has many ideas for people he would like to collaborate with, aspects of his life he would like to share, people in his life he would like to celebrate, art collaborations – the list goes on.”
Of course, when talking about one of Testino’s many signature projects, it’s hard not to mention the Towel Series. Launched in 2013, the Peruvian lensman carefully selects his victims who will bravely pose in front of the lens in nothing but a white towel.
Once saying that “nakedness is the most beautiful state”, the (mainly) black-and-white images are left looking as natural as possible, taking away much of the glitz and glamour associated with Testino’s usual fashion work.
Photographing everyone from Kristen Stewart and Cristiano Ronaldo to newer stars like Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Selena Gomez, the 150-strong series was all thanks to the iconic British supermodel Kate Moss. “A few weeks after I launched my Instagram profile, I was with Kate Moss for a shoot,” he recalls.
“She came out of the dressing room back stage just after having a shower. She was there in a robe and her towel on her head. I thought: ‘God, women always look amazing when there’s a towel around their head.'”
“Then I questioned: ‘How many people actually get to see Kate Moss coming out of the shower, wrapped in just a towel?’ It was in that moment I captured my first ‘Towel Series’ image.”
Testino is thankful for the private moments he gets to share with his subjects-slash-friends and feels that this is why the series has become so iconic for him: “It strips the subjects to their most basic state, because when you get rid of all the jewellery, clothes, and any other enhancements you see something pure. It exposes a private side, and it gives you a glimpse of a moment that the people I shoot wouldn’t give to anybody else.”
He predictably credits Kate Moss as being one of his favourite towelled subjects (and arguably the most popular images of the series) along with other industry greats like Gisele Bundchen and Penelope Cruz.
The Towel Series may be Testino’s most well-known body of work but it’s the more personal projects that he thinks of dearly. Along with the Peru museum he opened in 2012 to celebrate his country’s artistic side, there are a myriad of Testino-produced things to marvel at.
He’s intensely private about his work with the royal family (which includes the aforementioned Diana portraits and the official engagement photo of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), naming a few Mira Mira films as some of his proudest achievements instead.
“I love the Language Barrier film with model Doutzen Kroes, because it’s funny and a little bit crazy – like my life,” he says. “I’m also proud of the podcasts because I get to talk to the people closest to me about the work we’ve done together.”
“I want to talk to everyone!” he jokes when asked who he’d like to feature on the ever-growing podcast next. “I’ve just spoken to Natalia Vodianova, so she’s out next.”
“Dream guests? Everyone I have ever worked with, and some that I am still yet to shoot.”
A people-pleaser up until his last breath, it’s hard to imagine anyone that wouldn’t want to be photographed by Mario Testino. As for his next interviewee, perhaps a royal could be on the cards.
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