Mario Testino spent a joyful evening at China Exchange, sharing stories and advice from his stellar career. He said that he is motivated by the pursuit of excellence and attributed his success to his perseverance, as well as some lucky breaks. He described how in the early stages of his career, he would try to get his portfolio noticed by calling people “a hundred times”, only to be told that he’d never make it. Despite being in the business for thirty six years, he said that he still feels the need to prove himself.
Mario talked candidly his role in the fashion industry. He said that although ultimately it is about creating a desire to buy clothes, it is also about seeing things differently and pushing boundaries. On his work in magazines, Mario said he likes editors who are “ruthless” as they push him forward, and on this front Vogue’s Anna Wintour is the “best editor I’ve ever had”.
Mario said that the dynamic feel of his photographs comes from trying to create the feeling of capturing a moment – “I try to make all my photos look like I just walked through the room and took it”. For him, perfection feels boring. He said that his biggest inspiration is human beings – he’s always been curious about other people’s bodies, but his favourite body part to focus on is the bum – “I love anything round”. He also tries to imbue his work with a sense of joy, and he would love to see more positivity in fashion photography.
Mario reflected on the changes that have taken place during his career. He said that for him, the evolution from film to digital “was a dream” because he can now see the images there and then, rather than waiting to see if he’d got the shot he wanted. An audience member asked what his thoughts were on selfies and how saturated with photographs modern culture has become. Mario answered that “people aren’t obsessed with photography, they’re obsessed with themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that”. He said that one of the benefits of a being constantly surrounded by images is that “people now know how difficult it is to take a good photo”.
Watch the video to hear Mario talk about his muse, Kate Moss, why he once thought about becoming a priest, and discover what his advice would be to a budding photographer today.