Mario Testino Revels in a World that Is “Undressed”

Photo: Paris, Vogue Hommes International, 1999.

A master of blurring the boundaries between fashion and nude photography, Mario Testino seduces with the sensual, intimate playfulness of a subtle provocateur who balances the thrill of sex with grace and beauty—no matter how much, or how little, clothing is worn. His photographs are a pure celebration of the sacred and profane glories of the human form.

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Testino has just opened Undressed, a site-specific installation conceived exclusively for the Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin, which features a sumptuous selection of 50 large-scale nudes, fashion photography, and unpublished studio portraits. The exhibition, currently on view through November 19, 2017, has been planned in conjunction with a book of the same name, to be published by Taschen on August 1, 2017.

Los Angeles, 1996.

Here, in this mesmerizing body of work, Testino delves beneath the surface of things, exploring the connections between art, eroticism, fashion, and fantasy. Flesh and fashion blur into a kaleidoscope of pleasures so that one becomes absolutely enthralled by the joy that the human body evokes. Masculinity and femininity meld into one as Testino’s models tempt, tease, and frolic hither and yon.

In the book, Testino speaks with Carine Roitfeld about his work, and the way in which art imitates life. He reveals, “…Seduction is, I think, much more interesting than sex itself. Seduction is a kind of energy and you can use it in different atmospheres with different people. Sex is more focused on the person, and I like everything else that’s going on around the person.”

Marisa Miller, Vogue Italia, Paris 2000.

That sensibility permeates every photograph Testino takes. We sense that there is nothing he loves so much as raising the camera to his eye and discovering the ways in which the picture can become a form of seduction all its own. The decision to partner with the Helmut Newton Foundation further underscores this practice, for both artists share a love of the transgressive abilities of the photograph.

Roitfeld observes, “What I like about Newton was that everything he did always looked completely normal. He never tried too hard. And I think that’s the main thing that I got from him. He had a talent for making anything seem normal, even the most improbable situations.”

Marina Dias, Paris, The Face, 2000.

Newton’s ability to normalize set the bar, forever removing the respectability politics from the fashion photograph. He simply said it was so and the world nodded along, transfixed by the dramatic emotion and strength he captured in the still image. In this same way, Testino follows suit, creating a space where the bare flesh is as much a thing of adornment as the clothing itself.

Testino approaches the body as an element of fashion and style all its own; how he uses nudity to get the very best out of his models, adding new levels of depth and cultivating fresh energies from familiar faces; and how he creates splendor in things many hide from view; he can make body hair elegant and enticing in ways no one else could.

Paris, Vogue Hommes International, 1999.

Ultimately, Testino’s goal was not to stun or scandalize, but to lull the viewer into a state of bliss that comes from the thrill of looking at the world. Testino asks Roitfeld, “But do you think that we were trying to seduce with our photographs – to shock, to push the envelope, to surprise? I’d say that perhaps what we wanted to show is that everything is possible, and anything can be accepted.”

All photos: © Mario Testino, courtesy of Taschen.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.