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MARIO AT THE MUSEUM: Remember the days when fashion photographers were relatively unknown to everyone but the cognoscenti? Well, they’re long gone. Just ask Mario Testino, who drew a crowd to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Wednesday to hear him discuss big subjects like life, art and portraiture. Testino described his role as “part psychologist and part magician” (isn’t that where Photoshop comes in?). As he spoke onstage, famous images from his portfolio — Princess Diana in black-and-white with gently disheveled hair or Kate Moss’ face blotched with self-applied bright makeup — scrolled behind him. Before photographing any famous face, he reviews other portraits to see “what they can give me that they haven’t given anyone else.”
Testino recalled his early years, leaving native Lima, Peru, and trying first San Diego (which he didn’t like) and then London, where, in order to extend his British visa, he followed a friend into photography school, waited tables on the side and served as Johnny Rosza’s assistant. He eventually became friendly with an editor at British Vogue, where he got his first major credit.
Not that everyone is a fan, though. “I’ve been criticized for pretty, smiley photographs, but at least someone is happy,” Testino said. “In my mind, I am always giving the image to the sitter.”
He also recalled meeting fellow South American Gisele Bündchen at the end of the grunge-waif era and trying to convince editors to use her. “It was, ‘Uh, no, the nose, the waist, the breasts.’ They saw problems everywhere,” he said. “A year later, everyone wanted her.” But his enduring connection has been to Moss, whom he met when she was 14 and crying backstage over getting only one runway look in a John Galliano show. Moss will appear in Testino’s new book, representing more than 100 separate sittings of the British model, to be released this summer by Taschen. When will he stop? With his megafees, large number of assistants and a client list that includes Lancôme, Burberry, the British Royal Family — not to mention a mania for pricy contemporary art — the answer is no time soon. “I can’t just have one fabulous thing, I need a hundred,” he joked. “That’s why I am always working.” — Kate Bowers