cult of personality

Mario Testino on ‘Vogue,’ Agyness Deyn, Tom Ford, and More

Mario TestinoPhoto: Getty Images

When you’re as big as Mario Testino, you don’t have to worry about getting gigs. After all, the Peruvian photographer shoots for almost every issue of American Vogue and lensed ad campaigns for Tom Ford, Michael Kors, Burberry, and many more. So in the diary he wrote chronicling his jet-setting life from the end of May to mid-June for the Independent, he’s not afraid to suggest Vogue is a bit bland and Toni Garrn’s Calvin Klein campaign was less than stellar. He also says the best models come out of London and explains why Agyness Deyn was left out of the fall Burberry campaign. Some highlights:

He has a method to ensure his work for American Vogue is mass market.

Most of my work is for American Vogue. I shoot for it almost every issue. This is a magazine that sells 1.2m copies and is probably read by 3m. Its reach is so wide you have to be quite easily understood. Whereas British Vogue’s aesthetics are different. You can’t give them work that’s too bland. It’s got to have a certain humour; a certain fun. And my photography is always about finding the common ground. Me, I’m a democrat. I like to believe that of the 10 people at a shoot, from the manicurist to the hairdresser to the make-up artist to the model … if everybody likes something I get the idea that by the time the photos come out everybody will like it. If only three people like it then by the time it gets to the press, the same percentage will like it: a very small number.

Agyness Deyn just wasn’t new enough for the fall Burberry campaign.

I find a lot of the best young girls come from [British model agency] Select. Every season for Burberry [Testino has shot the British fashion house’s influential campaigns since 1998] I look to see who’s new. Who is coming with something? When I noticed Agyness Deyn [who joined the Burberry campaign in 2007 with much fanfare, though has been dropped for the current push] she was this 17-year-old girl. I said “I really like her.” I started working with her when I was doing a “teenager issue” for British Vogue. Because the Burberry campaign is about the youth of England, I have to change the cast to make sure it doesn’t get boring. And Agyness is someone that the press have picked up on such a lot. These days the media is much stronger [at promoting people].

He thinks Toni Garrn may be the new Claudia Schiffer, but her Calvin Klein campaign doesn’t do her justice.

I also photographed this new girl, Toni Garrn. She’s 16 and may be the new Claudia Schiffer. She was also picked up by Calvin Klein, but when I saw their campaign I thought it looked … I thought you didn’t really get her. A lot of campaigns transform the girl into what the designer wants. But when I met her I was so taken with her I was, like, “Oh my God, Toni!” So for this issue I wanted all the girls to have a starring role. It was about them, not the designer. That’s why I put all their names [as the headlines to the fashion stories].

Tom Ford made shooting ad campaigns more fun than doing editorial work.

I found that, in the 1990s, advertising campaigns became more exciting than editorial. When I started doing Gucci with Tom Ford he pushed me to new heights. He was, like, “I’ve seen you do better than that. Don’t get worried because it’s a campaign.” Before we were restricted because of the concerns around the world: you can’t have nudity in some countries; a man cannot be touching a woman … there were lots of different things. He really changed things [with overtly sexual advertising].

He thinks feminine men are masculine.

Shooting in LA for an issue of V Man I’m editing. The theme is “extreme”. I’ve tried to do it around the extremes of how a male gets perceived today, in the sense that there is ambiguity: sometimes the butcher a man is, the queenier he can be. And sometimes the most feminine men can be the most masculine.

The secret diary of Mario Testino: What the world’s most glamorous photographer saw [Independent]

Mario Testino on ‘Vogue,’ Agyness Deyn, Tom Ford, and More