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Peering at people through a new lens

Updated: 2012-06-11 08:50
By Chen Nan ( China Daily)

Peering at people through a new lens

Mario Testino [Photo provided to China Daily]

It was 1982 when Mario Testino first arrived in Beijing. He stayed a couple of days, working as a Glamour magazine photographer.

Beijing's cityscape then bustled with bicycles and people in blue Mao suits. But the dreary scenes didn't seem dull to the Peruvian fashion photographer.

Testino, who's among the world's most influential photographers, returned in 2011, working for Vogue.

The 58-year-old says Beijing's dramatic transformation inspired him to host his first exhibition in Asia.

"From the new architecture to what people wear today, Beijing has so unbelievably changed," Testino says.

He says he has received many exhibition offers on the continent, but "Beijing is a city that I want to discover. I think that it's perfect start for me to explore Asia."

Testino opened his exhibition Private View, which spans his 30-year career, at Beijing's Today's Art Museum on June 7. (The show runs until June 27.)

"(I selected) the images that mean most to me personally at the moment," he says.

The 98 photographs on show include portraits of royalty and Hollywood stars.

"People in China love exchanging name cards," the photographer says.

"I don't know how much China knows my works. I hope this exhibition is my name card to introduce my world to China."

The first photo displayed is a portrait of Lady Gaga, which was a Vogue cover in 2009. The photograph is also part of the exhibition's first section - Larger Than Life, which features celebrity portraits, including photos of actress Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow, and pop queen Madonna.

"Photographs can show different sides of a person - their fun side, their soft side, their sexy side," Testino says.

"Whatever it may be, I discover it when I am with them. Sometimes, it can lead to very surprising results. I am obsessed with people and how to make them look their best. I want to show positive energy and to bring out the personality."

That approach is also displayed in the second section - Portraits of the British Royal Family.

Testino was also Princess Diana's favorite photographer. The exhibition shows seven black-and-white photographs of the late princess of Wales. She trusted him so much that Prince William and Kate Middleton chose him to shoot their official engagement photographs in 2010.

"Many people asked me who my favorite subject is. It would have to be Princess Diana," he says.

Testino grew up in Lima as the eldest son of a businessman. He studied economics in university and went to London to study photography in 1976.

He talks of his special affinity with England, where he learned his craft, saying "photographing the royals is my way of giving back to the country, documenting the tradition and the history".

His first photographic encounter with the royal family was as a bystander in a crowd, when he managed to snap a photo of the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Queen Elizabeth was looking straight at him when she passed by in her carriage.

"Since then, I have tried to take photos that make you feel that you are meeting them yourself, to know what it's like to be standing next to them," he says.

Kate Moss is another of his favorites, and he has worked with her for 20 years.

His cooperation with supermodels like Moss and Gisele Bundchen is documented in the show's third section - In My Own Fashion, which concentrates on models.

Fashion, as he puts it, is a place he gets to dream. Fashion photography is about creating something that can take someone to another world. Those women, as Testino describes, come to his life. He doesn't know why, but they are special in their own ways.

"I want to show a world that could not be seen anywhere except in a picture and to have visual experiences you might otherwise never know," he says.

"I don't want to lock you out."