BEIJING — After 30 years in the business, photographer Mario Testino’s drive to find what’s new has taken him to the Chinese capital to open his first exhibition here.
“Private View” contains 86 of his best-known images, selected by Testino himself and curated by Patrick Kinmonth, and will run in the avant-garde Beijing Today Art Museum until the end of June.
Testino calls it a calling card to introduce his life’s work in what many see as the world’s most exciting new market for fashion and luxury brands.
“I am obsessed by the new. I have been a photographer for 30 years and how do you keep it interesting? It’s with what is new,” said Testino in an interview before the exhibition’s red-carpet opening at the museum, a former beer-factory-turned-exhibition-space. “There is opportunity [here], there is challenge — it’s just something different. I am as excited by this as I am by São Paulo.”
Despite hastily polishing off a sandwich borrowed from Kinmonth’s plate — after, in typical old-Beijing style, the waitress in the hip cafe forgot his order — Testino is graceful and relaxed ahead of his formal, red-carpet introduction to China.
The Peruvian-born photographer has been to China twice before, the first time in the early Eighties as a last-minute fill-in on a fashion shoot for French Glamour, when he recalled barely a car on the road and people still dressed in blue Maoist suits. The second time was last year, for a U.S. Vogue shoot featuring Karlie Kloss alongside Buddhist monks in saffron robes, during which he was approached about doing the exhibition.
The result — after months of preparation that included the Chinese government vetoing some images — is an exhibition spanning two floors with memorable shoots from British and U.S. editions of Vogue, Vanity Fair and W Magazine, along with personal snapshots. Some of Testino’s favorite subjects —Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen, for instance — make multiple appearances. A few daring photos dodged the censors’ efforts, including a nude Robbie Williams with Bündchen in British Vogue, the G shaved into Louise Pederson’s pubic hair for Gucci’s 2003 spring campaign, and Eva Herzigova with a butcher’s knife and a blood-stained apron in The Face in 1998.
Britain’s royal family has a dedicated section, in which portraits of Diana, Princess of Wales and the more recent engagement photos of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge mingle with warm family shots of Prince Charles and his sons at Highgrove.
Prominent is a multimedia installation from Testino’s 15-year partnership with Burberry, staging a number of still photos and video before a hall of mirrors. Burberry, for which China is among its most important new markets, has also sponsored the exhibition.“China is hugely significant. We’ve got a lot of plans here.…The Chinese love the heritage, love the history, love the tradition, but I think they also love the modernity of the brand,” said the firm’s chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, on the sidelines of the opening Wednesday night. “Beijing is a city that is moving very fast-forward, there’s a lot of excitement going on, a lot of art, a lot of design, a lot of fashion, a lot of music. I just think it’s a very receptive audience to Mario’s work.”
Angelica Cheung, editor of Vogue China, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the interest generated by the exhibition on Vogue’s Weibo account, the Chinese version of Twitter.
“If any photographer has a reputation in China, that is Mario Testino,” Cheung said, adding the exhibition demonstrates how China is coming of age in the fashion world. “I like to joke I don’t need to go to Paris Fashion Week anymore. I do go, of course, but I don’t need to, because everyone is coming here.…It says a lot about how quickly China has changed.”
The exhibition runs in Beijing until June 27. Testino said the hope is to take it elsewhere in Asia, though further locations are not yet set.