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December 2012


IN YOUR FACE: Celeb photographer Mario Testino’s first stateside exhibits hit the MFA
By Scott Kearnan




Plenty of museums line their galleries with works by famous photographers. But if debating the merits of Ansel Adams and Robert Capa sounds a bit too dry for a blind date, here’s a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston that trades in a language everyone understands: pop culture. Mario Testino: In Your Face (on display through February 3, 2013) showcases 122 images by one of the world’s most famous celebrity and fashion photographers. If these shots look familiar - they are. (And not just because of the famous faces.) Many of these photos are iconic images that have previously graced the pages of magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, and collectively offer a fascinating snapshot of American celebrity culture. Alongside the styled portraits are more candid photos that reveal the stars in more personal, unguarded moments. And also on view is Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits, which focuses on his generations of work for the famous family. Together, they mark the world-famous photographer’s first exhibitions in the United States.

Testino has proven that in the 21st century, celebrity photography can be high art. But for fun, we thought we’d preview some of the images included in the show by imagining their high-class visuals through the lowbrow headlines of a cheesy, star-filled tabloid. Of course, you’ll find some background on each image, plus our take on what makes it so iconic. But there are dozens more to gawk at, so get thee to the MFA (465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-267-9300).

(For further information, please visit mariotestino.com and mfa.org.)




Stars Are Just Like Us:

THEY PUT ON THEIR MAKEUP!

Except we usually do it in the rearview mirror while stopped in traffic on the morning commute; not in swanky-looking bathrooms while being shot by a world-famous photographer. (And if anyone ever snapped a shot of us before we finished reapplying, we’d forbid it from Facebook – never mind a museum. Then again, we don’t look like Kate Moss.) Moss, Testino’s friend and frequent muse, is presented here in a manner that’s somewhat unusual for an international supermodel: seemingly un-posed, candid, and unguarded. (Her mask is, quite literally, off.) But even while crouching in a bathroom corner, she can’t escape her celebrity status; she pretties herself up while surrounded by mirrors that reflect her body from every angle and multiply a single flashbulb into paparazzi-like fireworks. Testino’s work often captures high-impact beauty and the hyper-reality of fame. But this deceptively candid photo, which appeared in Vogue Italia, suggests that when innate, glamour follows you everywhere – even in to the powder room.

Kate Moss
London

2006
© Mario Testino.

Stars Are Just Like Us:
THEY STEP OUT OF CARS!

Except we usually do it by hop-scotching over a puddle as we desperately try to juggle a briefcase, keys, steaming hot Starbucks, and our dignity; not looking like a backup dancer from Beyonce’s latest video. This shot for Vanity Fair captures infuriatingly gorgeous supermodel Gisele Bundchen – wife of infuriatingly gorgeous football star Tom Brady – looking infuriatingly gorgeous in infuriatingly gorgeous clothes and Oh Jesus Christ, will you look at those legs! Testino recently told reporters that early on he had to champion the model to an initially skeptical style world. His affection for her is evident here: Testino’s admiring camera seems to be serving Bundchen as much love as she serves to it. Here a potentially corny concept is executed with un-ironic regality. Plus, any photographer who can capture a white limo, mirror ball cocktail dress, and purple fur stole in a single shot that connotes elegance – not “Drag Fabulous” – is truly talented.

Gisele Bündchen
New York

2007
© Mario Testino



Stars Are Just Like Us:

THEY CHECK IN TO HOTELS!

Except we’re usually found deliberating over the mini-bar options, and deciding exactly how hung over we need to be before $40 becomes an acceptable price for a bottle of Fiji water; not having skateboard parties in a suite the size of Fiji. This photo for Vogue originally accompanied a feature titled “Gwyneth Takes Paris.” Of course, Paltrow’s most recent Parisian adventures probably didn’t leave her publicist leaping for joy: this summer she tweeted the N-word while at a Jay-Z and Kanye concert there, evidently forgetting that she is not only white, but like, Gwyneth Freaking Paltrow-level white. Yet this 2005 shot reminds us that, when she’s not busy being out-of-touch and unlikable, she can actually seem down-to-earth and likable. Here Testino captures Paltrow’s naive girlishness – catching her mid-leap in a mermaid dress - and juxtaposes it with the equally adolescent energy of a rocker boy catching airtime. Plus, he blows the lid off a well-kept secret: Kurt Cobain is alive, well, and taking lessons from Tony Hawk in France.

Gwyneth Paltrow
Paris

2005
© Mario Testino

Stars Are Just Like Us:
THEY LOVE THEIR DOGS!

But we’re usually cuddling with Fido on the couch and letting him steal the crumbs off our plate; not challenging him to a snarl-off on the cover of a major men’s magazine. One of Testino’s most recent works, this Tom Brady photo just graced the cover of the August issue of VMan Magazine. It seems like a non-too-subtle attempt to man up Brady’s public image: though the Patriots quarterback is regarded as a God among men in his native New England, non-fans sometimes take potshots that the Stetson and Ugg boots model is a pretty-boy. Clearly that can’t be the case, because here he is getting ready to rock out with his faux-hawk out in a Givenchy suit, and screaming alongside a pissed off Doberman. (And yeah, the dog happens to be very well accessorized. But come on people, it’s a cover shoot.) In all seriousness, Testino gets Brady to emote an edge here that we’re not used to seeing – he’s usually sexy only in a squeaky-clean way. So touchdown.

Tom Brady
New York

2012
© Mario Testino.

Stars Are Just Like Us:
THEY BREAK A SWEAT!

Except we usually do it by panting in an excruciating spin class, while resisting the urge to strangle our drill sergeant instructor with his Blond Ambition headset; not by slicking back our pompadour and flexing our muscles like a West Side Story extra getting ready to rumble. But that’s the androgynous look that Testino captured for Jennifer Lopez, who appeared on the cover of V Magazine with her hands bandaged for a fight, rocking a jockstrap, and with some badass, butch eyebrows going on. It’s a far cry from the glamorous hot mama we’re used to seeing: a spicy sex bomb revered for being curvy – not cut. But the boxing motif befits an actress, pop star, and businesswoman who has proven herself to be one of the entertainment industry’s most resilient brands. And considering that Lopez has long been hounded by rumors that she’s among Hollywood’s most demanding divas, it’s kind of cool to see her boldly own the part of a glare-giving, punch-throwing antagonist without a hint of self-consciousness. That’s what we call a heavyweight.

Jennifer Lopez
© Mario Testino.

Stars Are Just Like Us:
THEY GIVE THEMSELVES MAKEOVERS!

Except we usually do it by switching up our hairstyle; not by having a baby, discovering Jewish mysticism, immersing ourselves in European techno, and then making a multi-platinum album about the whole damn thing. And yet, that was the ballyhooed back-story to Madonna’s hyped 1998 album Ray of Light, for which Testino provided the photography. (Including this cover shot.) It’s hard to remember several reinventions later, but the look and attitude Madonna unveiled with these photos – that of a fresh faced Italian Earth Mother tripping on bliss from the yoga studio to the rave – were truly transformational. Ray of LightRay of Light was the queen of pop's first album after a particularly confrontational, sex-drenched era that nearly KILLED her career – and her first album as a mother. Its embrace of spirituality, refute of fame, and joyful abandon hit the public as a dramatic about-face from a star previously known for thumbing her nose at religion, thrusting herself into every spotlight, and constantly asserting steely control. Testino’s accompanying photos shirked those associations and introduced us to Ray of Light’s easy, breezy cover girl.

Madonna
Miami

1997
© Mario Testino

Stars Are Just Like Us:
THEY GET ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS!

Except we usually do it by tracking down the one photographer within our budget who understands that having an Instagram account does not qualify as having professional experience; not commissioning one of the world’s most esteemed fashion and celebrity photographers. Also, we’re not British royalty. In 2011, the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton was the British wedding that captivated the world. (The American wedding? Kim Kardashian to Kris Humphries. This is why the rest of the world doesn’t invite us to the formal dinner parties.) And Mario Testino was the photographer they chose to take their engagement photos, which – not that he needs it – isn’t a shabby distinction to put on a professional resume. In addition to In Your Face, the MFA is also hosting British Royal Portraits, the first US showing of the couple’s engagement photos; and every Sunday through December 16, guests can indulge their inner Anglo with “Royal-Tea” from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the MFA’s restaurant Bravo – an elegant tea and pastry (and, if you’re feeling saucy, champagne or sherry) service for $28 per person.

TRH The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge
London

2010
© Mario Testino.  



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