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Mario Testino Portraits (London)

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      25.05.2002 23:24
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      There is something genuinely disappointing about this show. After having spent the better part of two hours looking at photographs of some of the world's most beautiful people, I left feeling anything but enlivened and inspired. On the contrary, the feeling was one marked more by apathy and emptiness, if not even a nagging oppression, than any sense of meaning or fulfillment. Mario Testino has become the photographer of choice for today's jet-set. Having arrived in London from his native Peru in the late '70's, he quickly established an international reputation as one of the world's most highly acclaimed fashion photographers. His photographs regularly grace the covers of the top international fashion magazines and he has worked with all the top names in his field. The influence of fashion is obvious throughout his work and provides a glitzy glamorous veneer to his portraits that, while certainly stylish and at his best even stunning, leaves the viewer somehow yearning for something deeper and more substantial. Testino's preoccupation with surface beauty and image sadly allows for no great insights into his subjects who include some of the world's most exciting and colorful personalities. In fact, one is tempted to save the price of admission and pick up the latest copy of Vogue or Glamour Magazine instead--at least you will learn how to do your eye makeup. The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is broken down into a series of six separate displays that allows the viewer to explore some major themes within Testino's work. The gallery space can at times seems small and congested which sadly doesn't allow sufficient room for viewing. Perhaps this was done on purpose to allow us an "up close" view of the stars but I found it frustrating and just a bit claustrophobic. Some of Testino's compositions are indeed beautiful but I found myself, on more than one occasion, retreating to the
      farthest corner of a room in an effort to fully appreciate them. While the works are not displayed chronologically, the thematic display does give us a sense of a certain natural progression that Testino's work has undergone from the world of high fashion into the genre of portraiture; perhaps not surprisingly, Testino's portraits share many of the same characteristics of his fashion photography. The first room or thematic display is entitled "Out of Fashion". Fashion, we are to presume, is the world from which Testino emerges and provides the roots for his later work as portraitist-photographer to the stars. Here we are bombarded with a multitude of images including some of the icons of the fashion world from Isabella Blow and Donatella Versace, to Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell. These are the great stock-in-trade images of glamour and beauty that one finds strewn across the covers of magazines worldwide. What is interesting in seeing so many photographs in such proximity (perhaps 25 of varying sizes in a room no more than 15 feet square) is the clichéd quality of the images and certainly the poses. The sexy sultry poses that have become standard and mimicked by 15 year old girls world-wide are seen here in their nascent glory. On one level, it is just a touch laughable, the posturing and posing, but then one recalls this is fashion photography designed to sell an assortment of cosmetics, clothes, perfumes, and ultimately the myth of a lifestyle that these products promise. Collectively, the portrayals--the promise--is of a world of glamour and beauty, an image of life in the fast lane where beauty flows naturally and without effort, where we have people to see and places to go, and where, if we are lucky, you--the viewer--can capture a quick glimpse of us before we leave for our next soiree. These themes continue very much into the second room which is devoted exclusively to portraits of Kate Moss, apparently on
      e of Testino's favorite subjects (I say apparently, because I couldn't figure out the fascination). The photographs are for the most part very large and are exhibited more sparingly than in the first room. However, the same degree of cool aloofness that pervades Testino's fashion photography is very much apparent here. In fact, a very large (6 x 10 feet) close-up of Kate Moss wearing dark Chanel glasses and leopard-skin coat illustrates this nicely. As if captured stepping into a limo after a movie premier, it becomes apparent that this is a very busy woman whose life in the fast lane leaves little time for mere mortals like ourselves. A few of these images are genuinely beautiful, most notably the black and whites, offering stylish compositions and beautiful lines yet there is a strange vacant quality, perhaps even a coldness, to the images. Kate Moss stares at us, almost through us, with a degree of aloofness and indifference that leaves one actually aware of our own lack of physical beauty. This is a girl who is very much aware of her natural beauty and who looks down at us with a hint of arrogance--or is it even contempt--as we shrink away feeling like we have been caught with an inappropriate men's magazine. The next room unfortunately offers little respite. This room is devoted to images of the London party scene and depicts the "hip and happening" of London's celebrity elite. This is the world of Elton John, Mick Jagger, and Bono, all caught in festive moments at one of those parties that the rest of us don't get invited to. Elton John wears a gold lamé suit and stands in front of myriad jars of ginseng and herbal energy supplements (you need energy after all to keep up with the pace) while Naomi Campbell poses with Puff Daddy who holds his finger to his lips as if to say, "sshhh... come in and look but don't let anyone know you're here." Everyone is captured having "oh such a good
      time," laughing and joking, decked out in their fashionably "radical" accoutrements of the day. It all seems horribly tedious and while ostensibly impromptu, appears just a little posed and self-conscious (indeed, the images, according to the accompanying brochure, were in many cases highly choreographed). For a culture that embraces celebrity as eagerly as ours, these are the ultimate party snapshots and being depicted here is what it means to have "arrived" on the London social scene. All rather dreary really. Curiously, there is one photograph in this room that seems to have little to do with the rest of the "London" images but is absolutely stunning in its own right. It is the one photograph in the entire exhibition that can unequivocally be categorized as great. It is an 8 x 10 foot black and white of ballerina Darcey Bussell depicted on toes in costume presumably backstage at the Royal Opera House. The setting however appears more reminiscent of a gigantic and nightmarish factory, perhaps even a backdrop to the movie Alien or Blade-Runner. The contrast between the exquisite elegance and vulnerability of Ms. Bussell and the glistening terrifying proportions of the backdrop is truly spectacular, even surreal in conception. It is the one photograph that reveals Testino's true talents and his potential to be a great artist; the vast majority of the rest of the show is deeply disappointing by comparison. Princess Diana and Madonna share the next room, disappointingly to fans of the Princess. Here the contrasts between the genuine beauty of Princess Diana and the feckless posing of a singer becomes painfully obvious. These two commissions represent the most important of Testino's career and were apparently taken on the same day in 1997. Diana's poses created a stir in their day for their relaxed informality and provide a genuine glimpse into Diana's personality away from the formal role
      that marked her public life. In this sense, Testino delivers something of the promise of good portrait photography. Here one gains a sense into the real personality of someone who became, even during her lifetime, something of an icon. The Diana portraits are shot predominantly in black and white and, in his more successful work, provide something of a timeless elegance that Testino's colour shots don't achieve. There is still a slight posed artificiality at least in some of the works but most do indeed give us a sense of the genuine person. The Madonna pictures, by contrast, leave us very conscious of the staged artificiality of the poses. Throughout the room, Madonna appears to be adopting a series of poses and personas--in some, recreating her role from the movie Evita. Dressed in costume, she stares at us rather blankly making it difficult to see the images as anything but of Madonna, the singer, dressed in the costume of Evita. Even an image of Madonna with daughter Lourdes (Madonna as mother or should we call it Madonna and Child) appears insincere. This "dress-up" "play-acting" quality to the images leaves us dissatisfied and acutely aware she is hiding behind a mask, one of a series of images she has cultivated throughout her career. We are teased by an unusual image of Madonna on all fours on the floor as if looking for a dropped earring, but both her expression and the utterly impregnable expression of a companion on a sofa behind leaves us once again disappointed. A Madonna with a broad grin would have been far more interesting, albeit perhaps a little less elegant. "Tradition" is the next theme explored by Testino and in this section we are greeted by two massive portraits of Prince Charles. One, in black and white, shows the Prince looking disarmingly distinguished while a second, in colour, shows Charles informally kneeling with chickens in an outdoor setting. One hesitates to call th
      is a more relaxed pose as Charles is wearing the most awkward-looking crooked smile, it is genuinely painful to look at--one immediately understands the meaning of the expression "I feel your pain". In fact, one wonders why it is included in the exhibit at all as, in contrast to the black and white, it is anything but flattering. Another curiosity is the portrait of Lord Frederick Windsor. Wearing a ripped T-shirt and holding what looks like a motorcycle helmet, the image is utterly absurd. We have heard of the phenomenon of the "suburban punk"; now we have "aristocratic punk". The final and largest section of the exhibit is entitled "Hollywood and Beyond" and, at this stage, most people are likely to be thinking about the "Beyond" portion of the show. A series of portraits of various Hollywood icons stretching the length of a long gallery, we are confronted with more of the glossy, slick images we have come to expect. From Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Meg Ryan, each portrait represents a stylishly cool façade that shares the same distinct aloofness that marks Testino's fashion works. This is not to say that some of the works aren't creative, interesting, or even flattering; indeed, many are (a small image of Liz Hurley is utterly exquisite). It is just that most of these images leave the viewer with no more a sense of who these people are than they had before. In this sense, what we see is identical to what we find in any of the dozens of Hollywood-obsessed magazines available on the newsstand--curiously, even the official hard-back exhibition catalogue on display upon exiting the show resembled more a well-worn, thumbed-through magazine from the local barber shop than the prized coffee-table book originally conceived. Ultimately, Testino's work becomes all about image and fantasy, surface and superficiality, concepts that by definition are not bad, only a little wanting when it c
      omes to viewing art. In this sense, one can not help but question the overall merit of the work and the premise of an exhibit that purports to show Testino's development from "working" fashion photographer to fine artist-portraitist to the rich and famous. The final image of the show--a huge 12 foot tall shot of Catherine Zeta Jones--dominates the end of the long "Hollywood and Beyond" gallery and marks the exit. The viewers' patience is rewarded with an impressive view of Ms. Jones' provocatively curvaceous figure corseted in black and offering a decidedly dominatrix element that would be the fantasy of any red-blooded male. She towers high above us and seems not to notice us below as the image takes on the character of a giant Buddha or great shrine to be worshipped. Of course, this is precisely what it is--an object of worship--the only disappointment coming with the realization that Ms. Zeta-Jones is, in all meaningful respects, completely unattainable. The blow is not lessened by Ms. Zeta-Jones' sideways stare towards the exit as if suggesting it is time for us to leave.

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        21.02.2002 22:27
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        I’ve had a naked David Ginola and Robbie Williams with his keks (knickers) off in the same room and only for £4.Bargain. Sadly hundreds of other women have too, some at the same time as me.Oh and so have some men. Unfortunately they were both two-dimensional, but it didn’t stop me looking. Robbie and David were part of Mario Testinos exhibition in The National Portrait Gallery. Mario WHO? I’d never heard of Mario Testino until the Omnibus programme about him a month ago, his life and the forthcoming exhibition ‘Portraits’ in the National Portrait Gallery. You might not of heard of him too, but if you have leafed through the glossies or your record collection you might have come across his work without realising it. His work is often used in fashion magazines such as Vogue, and the album cover for Madonna’s Ray of Light album, is a portrait by Testino. Due to the media coverage of this exhibition it is very popular. We went on Saturday afternoon, but the tickets had sold out. It is best to queue up at opening time to be sure of receiving tickets to enter the exhibition. They operate a timed entry system at the gallery. You are given a time slot when you can view the exhibition. We queued up at 10 am on Sunday and were given tickets for 10.30-11.00.You can also buy tickets via Ticketmaster at http://www.ticketmaster.com or 0870 241 3034 if queuing is impossible. There is a £1 charge payable per transaction and not per ticket. Tickets are £6 or £4 for students, unemployed and under 18s. I managed to get a student discount WITHOUT proof of being a student. The price is reasonable when you compare it to the fact The Tate Modern asks you to shell out £10, or £8 concession for The Andy Warhol exhibition. RIP OFF. The exhibition takes place in The Wolfson Gallery. The rooms are painted in deep aqua blue and dark green alternatively, two colours that were able to bring out the best q
        ualities of the coloured images and the black and white simultaneously with great effect. You walked round the exhibition, which was in several rooms in a clockwise direction. Each separate room related to a particular theme. The exhibition was a stark contrast to the sober and authoritarian, regal portraits of politicians and royalty in the main section of The National Portrait Gallery on stark, white walls. OUT OF FASHION These rooms related to Mario Testinos work as a fashion photographer, defining and crossing the boundaries between fashion and portraiture. Mario only photographs beautiful people and never is this more evident than in this room full of pictures of models. Kate Moss said he made her sexy, which for a twiglet is some major achievement. He is so taken with Kate Moss he devotes a whole section of rooms to her .He first met her when she was a seventeen year old model and the rooms chart her career as a kind of biography of her career. What struck me in the Omnibus programme was how healthy the models looked and the only emaciated-looking ones were the fashion writers and journalists they interviewed. They were hazy, soft-focus, very pretty, but I wished he’d have focussed on the subtle nether-regions hiding shots of naked males more, than minute breasted women, but he is a bloke and fashions his job. Supermodels, fashion writers, designers, stylists jump off the walls, as they do out of the glossy mags. LONDON ‘The life of a photographer is nomadic and uncertainty it helps to have something’s, people and places you can be sure of and London has given me all of these’. MARIO TESTINO Mario Testino moved to London from Peru in the late 1970s to study .It was here that he developed a lot of his work and skill as a photographer. He did a lot of work for British Vogue, which described the buzz he felt in London, something akin to that in London in the swinging sixties. He tr
        ied to describe this buzz in his pictures of actors, musicians, and artists and evoked with some effect the cultural hub of the nation. Robbie Williams. British Vogue 2000. Mario Testino brings out the essence of his subjects, their personality shine through the hazy paint-like images. His Robbie is ‘very’ Robbie. You will understand this when you view the photographs. Robbie Williams, bare-chested and cheekily peering over a pair of Union Jack sequinned knickers. You are drawn to his eyes; his most attractive feature that you almost forget a naked David Ginola next to you you, but not for long. DAVID GINOLA.GLAMOUR.PARIS 1994 David Ginola photographed when he was not fat, in 1994 for Paris magazine Glamour. It was a full frontal, black and white photograph, at a slight angle and he is wearing the broadest grin on his erm…Face. His modesty is well covered, but suggested in the hazy black misty -like quality of the photograph, though it isn’t blurred. I wish I had the power Mario had to get beautiful men to whip there clothes off in front of me. Oh well, we can dream. DIANA.PRINCESS OF WALES. Testino original wanted to show her as the fairy-tale princess, but he ended up showing a much more personal and intimate view of who was the nations favourite royal. Another significance of this portrait shot in 1997 for Vanity Fair was that it was probably the last, or one of the last pictures taken of her before she was killed in a car crash later that year. He abandoned the traditional image and chose the more private one. MADONNA One of the most touching and compelling pictures is the photograph of Madonna playing with Lourdes, her daughter, which was photographed for Vanity Fair in 1997. It is astonishing how someone so famous, with so little privacy, even of their private lives are so willing to let someone into their own world like Madonna and Princess Diana. For such m
        odern day icons to let him into their lives is testimony to Testino’s skill as a photographer and a person and the results speak for themselves through the colours of the glossy paper. RAY OF LIGHT ALBUM COVER.MIAMI, 1998 Madonna in pale blue gown on blue background, windswept. Her tumbling curls partially covering the side of her face. The delicate hues, flattering and soft, taking years off. I have the album and I find this image in keeping with the hippy, flowing music of the album, like The Power of Goodbye. TRADITION ‘I enjoy the idea of the rebel as much as the conformist, but I love the things that come from a civilised society, strong enough to allow freedom, and sure of itself to admit change.’ MARIO TESTINO This section is about tradition and the traditional aspects of British life that foreigners find intriguing, in particular our royal family. His work is a respect for tradition and a different way of seeing them from there usual role, in contrast to the stiff portraits of monarchy past in the gallery up the escalators. You may wonder how Prince Charles managed to get amongst the portraits, as he’s not what most people consider beautiful. To Mario, however, he is a very attractive man and the portraits are of people who Mario finds very attractive. Prince Charles is photographed in Highgrove, in 2001, feeding the chickens. A very private portrait of a public figure, Prince Charles as you have never seen him before. HOLLYWOOD AND BEYOND ‘In this I have been influenced by Beaton who made use of obviously artificial props and settings in his work but which nevertheless makes you believe that a world of fantasy is actually available: you could go there yourself, tonight, now, whenever you want’. MARIO TESTINO This is a section of actors and actresses, shot in a way to add a sense of drama and intrigue. He uses props, such as the stuffed squirrel in the
        Julia Roberts portrait. They are fun and theatrical, which are, I guess ,like him. The actors and actresses are role-playing; he examines their character as well as their roles. And there you have it. Back where you started. Though it is recommended you go back to David Ginola and check if you can see his dangly bits, unless someone’s stood deliberately in front of him, which does happen as it gets quite crowded. Jeez some women have no taste. Tasteful, paint-like, dream-like and fantasy. Heaven. Though next time Mr Testino, please can we have a whole naked football team next time PLEASE. The exhibition contains over 120 portraits. You can buy postcards and other things like Testino pack of cards. The full-illustrated catalogue is available for £30 (paperback) and £40.00 hardback in the National Portrait Galleries shop. National Portrait Gallery opening times Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am - 6pm Late Opening Thursday, Friday: 10am - 9pm Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 EXHIBITION RUNS FROM 1 February - 4 June 2002

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