NEW YORK — Mario Testino has shot covers for Vanity Fair and Vogue; done ad campaigns for Gucci, Burberry and Versace, and photographed enough celebrities to fill the Shrine Auditorium on Oscar night. In fact, when asked by WWD whom he would most like to shoot, his answer was simple: “I’ve done everyone I wanted to do.” An exhibition of his fashion photographs is being held at the Phillips de Pury gallery on 15th Street and will be celebrated at a party Thursday night hosted by Drew Barrymore, Simon de Pury and Anna Wintour.
WWD: How did this exhibition come about?
Mario Testino: I was approached by Simon quite a while back to show my fashion photographs, and was skeptical at first. I really like working for magazines, but a lot of the time, images in magazines are more successful when they’re immediate, almost throwaway. What works well on a page doesn’t always look good on a wall. But I was enticed because Simon represents the estate of Helmut Newton.
WWD: You’re known for taking really glamorous shots. Do you have any interest in ugly people?
M.T.: I do, actually. Sometimes I propose girls to editors and the editors think they’re sort of ugly. I like a beauty that has some weightiness to it.
WWD: But could that describe any of the women you shoot?
M.T.: Yeah. I do a lot of actresses. You couldn’t say they’re all beautiful or perfect.
WWD: You work with enormous crews. How many people does it take to stage a Mario Testino photograph?
M.T.: A minimum of 15 and up to 40. I’m most into the intimate things, the ones that take very few people.
WWD: Fifteen people seems like a lot. Don’t you feel at this point that you could call up Madonna and say, I’m going to shoot you all alone?
M.T.: If it was a good idea. But all the magazines are limited to their credits. Those pages are accorded to their advertisers ahead of time. It’s how magazines make the deals to get the advertising. So you have to have a very good idea of how to fill those pages with credits. And going back to the idea of the celebrity doing their own look, that could work with Kate Moss because she’s got style and beauty coming out of her ears. But I’m not sure I would do anybody else like that.
This story first appeared in the January 31, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: On that topic, what did you think of Burberry’s decision not to renew her contract?
M.T.: I don’t really know. I don’t deal with the contracts. But I’m a fan of Kate. And it’s a pity that a mistake like that gets blown out of proportion. Lots of things happen and as long as we don’t see them, we’re OK. I try not to interfere in people’s lives that I photograph. I could be photographing an actress that’s actually an alcoholic. And nobody cares and nobody knows.
WWD: Doesn’t that say something about the pictures? You make the whole experience sound pretty impersonal.
M.T.: It’s totally impersonal. I meet these people on the day that I shoot them. My knowledge of them is limited to two hours of hair and makeup … That’s the difference between a fine artist and a commercial artist. We’re limited by what the magazine wants to do or sell. When you do Vogue or Vanity Fair, you do what’s right for them. And it’s the same for campaigns. If I’m working for Gucci for Tom Ford, I try to emulate what Tom Ford is trying to say for his line.
WWD: Have you worked for Gucci since he left?
M.T.: I did one more campaign because there was one more in my contract. That was two seasons ago. Since then, no.
WWD: What have you thought of Gucci since he left?
M.T.: I don’t know if they have an image defined for it yet. But I bear no grudges. Patrick Demarchelier has been working in this business longer than I have and he once said to me, “Clients come and go. Take it with a smile.”