03.01.2016 - Carolin Petersen




Magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair compete fiercely for him. The next cover just has to feature his unmistakable style – and so does the fashion spread. Labels such as Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry would be lost in the crowd of glossy images without his outstanding campaigns.


Yet Testino, who is Peruvian by birth, initially embarked on a very different career path. He attended a Catholic school and, for a while, wanted to become a priest. But he has always had a unique way of dressing – “Imagine David Bowie walking in Rome". In conservative South America his extravagant outfits were positively scandalous. Neither his taste nor his views conformed with the generally accepted norms. This may only have increased his need to break away. In an interview later in life, he said that "life is for casting off constraints, to find new things." In his early 20s, he went to London to study photography. He immediately fell in love with the place. The people celebrated their individuality. Everyone had its own different style and the creativity was incredible. Testino dyed his hair pink and moved into a wing of an abandoned hospital. He spent his evenings working as a waiter in a restaurant to earn a living. He surrounded himself with gregarious friends and he soon began documenting their party lifestyle through snapshots. But his career did not yet really take off the ground. So he began to photograph portfolios for aspiring models. The stylist, who helpt him at that moment, was none other than the future head of French Vogue, Carine Roitfeld. Once the young photographer had built up his own portfolio, Vogue's fashion director, Lucinda Chambers, became one of his first customers. Commissions for Harper's Bazaar followed and, slowly, success came. Testino's particular way of seeing women made his images very distinctive and helped him become a prestigious photographer. By the mid-1990s he was making his living from models and fashion. When, in 1995, Madonna expressly requested Mario Testino as the photographer for the Versace campaign, his career as a celebrity photographer began. She had noticed Testino's photos in a fashion magazine. Numerous shoots with global stars and celebrities followed. His name became a brand. Testino finally achieved world renown following the tragic death of Princess Diana, because he had taken the last official pictures of her. Originally produced for Vanity Fair, the images were distributed via all media channels after her fateful death.


Mario Testino, the superstar photographer from Lima, makes beautiful people even more beautiful. The effortless and luxurious appearance of his work belies a complex art, which Testino has perfected over the course of several decades. "I usually try to make my images look like they just exist, like no effort was put into it." This posed effortlessness produces glamorous photos that are captivating in their naturalness. "He makes me sexier than other people" muses Kate Moss, a long-time collaborator of the Peruvian. It makes no difference to Mario Testino whether he is photographing a woman or a man. He does not define his sexuality. "I’ve never wanted to call myself any sexuality, because I hate the idea of taking freedom away from you, and I think we all can be everything. My sexuality has been so wide and open, and that's what's influenced my way of working". Is that his secret? Testino is both clever enough and has the ability to stage his models in a way that showcases their particular characteristics and makes them especially prominent. In his book, Private View, he reveals his personal intention: "Whether I’m photographing the most famous person in the world, or a person I have just met, my aim is the same – to communicate in the photograph what it feels like to be right next to that person, to give someone who sees this picture a strong sense of what it is to know that person... to discover them." Today, Mario Testino is the highest paid fashion photographer in the world. Exhibitions of his works from Tokyo to London, Sao Paolo, New York and Stockholm evidence the worldwide consensus that his photos are not only beautiful, they are true art.

Short Facts


He carries a camera with him everywhere, but he doesn't care what brand he uses. "No limits. Flash, fluorescent, Hasselblad, Canon, HMI. You name it, I used it".


Mario Testino is a workaholic. "I work 14 hours a day, every day. I work most Saturdays and most Sundays. Every day a new city, new people, new everything. I can’t get enough of it."


During a production trip in the early 80s, the crew had no budget for locations. While fashion director Hamish Bowles sat shyly in the back seat, Testino instructed the driver to head to the wealthiest area. Once there, he walked purposefully to the grandest house and, in his open way, started sweet-talking the owner, who was cutting flowers. The upshot was they were allowed to take photographs in the finest private homes in the city. They even threw dinner parties for the crew.


2014 Awarded an honorary OBE 2010 Awarded The Grand Cross Order of Merit, the highest honour in his native Peru.

Towel Series


1954 - Peruvian

Mario Testino is born on 30 October 1954 in Lima, Peru, to a middle-class family. He is the oldest of six siblings. As a young high school student, he shows a liking for maths and goes on to study law and economics. His father is a businessman who spends a lot of time on the road and often takes his son with him on his trips.

1976 - New to London

At the age of 22, he moves continents and goes to London to study photography. He surrounds himself with a circle of fun-loving friends and enjoys the freedom of this cosmopolitan city. He works as a waiter to make ends meet.

1980 - Test Shoots

After a while he starts photographing portfolios for aspiring models, for relatively little money. His work attracts the attention of the editors at the go-sees attended by the girls. That is how the young Testino gets his first job as a fashion photographer

1983 - En Vogue

British Vogue first publishes one of his photos.

1995 - Madonna

Superstar Madonna is due to be photographed by Richard Avedon for a Versace campaign. In the end, at her express request, the famous photographer is replaced by Mario Testino. As if that is not honour enough, Gianni Versace billed the advertisement 'Versace presents Madonna by Testino’.

1997 - Princess Diana

Just a few weeks before her death Mario Testino photographs Princess Diana for Vanity Fair. The last official pictures of the Princess of Wales are published around the world.

2002 - Art, or?

His controversial exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London sets a new record with over 150,000 visitors. Critics say that works by portrait and fashion photographers do not belong in a museum. They think they are too commercial.

2008 - The Auction

At a charity event, a photo shoot with the photographer is auctioned off for £1.26 million. The highest bidder remains anonymous.

2010 - An Honour

The highest honour awarded by his native Peru, The Grand Cross Order of Merit, is given to Testino. In the same year, he takes the official photos marking Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton.

2011 - Kate's Wedding

As a close friend of the bride, he attends Kate Moss' wedding with Jamie Hince as both a guest and the photographer. The images are published exclusively in the September issue of American Vogue.

2014 - Distinction

Mario Testino is awarded an Honorary Order of the British Empire for his outstanding services to the fashion industry.


© bfanyc


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