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The most unforgettable shots are the in-the-moment-of-the-moment ones: unrehearsed, unposed, and completely natural. Internationally renowned photographer Mario Testino built his career on the concept of capturing his subjects’ subtle nuances through a single, offbeat smile or unplanned lapse of posture. Celebrity, model, and newcomer all have one thing in common through Testino’s lens: irreplicable individuality.
Testino’s new website, Mira Mira, is a testament to the relaxed one-off snapshots featuring some of the photographer’s most famous subjects, borne of a desire to create an unedited online world that would offer fans a unique insight into his life and work. Testino admits that the Instagram age has brought about a refreshing new perspective on the world of photography as we once knew it, noting in a recent interview with The Telegraph: “When I started using Instagram, I realized all my professional work had always been edited by other people, who decided what goes in. Like when I’m working on a big shoot for British Vogue or Anna Wintour at American Vogue or at Michael Kors, they always have the final say. With Instagram I discovered that I had a place where I could do it all for myself and decide myself. Instagram has been amazing for that; I didn’t know that I would have such a reaction – I managed to get 2.5million followers.”
While the connection between Instagram and the world of high fashion photography may not be immediately apparent, it’s worth noting–as Testino has–the value in allowing a shoot to take on its own shape and form, to use the moment as inspiration, rather than seek to construct the moment itself. Mira Mira, translated from Spanish as “Look! Look!” was inspired by Testino’s own childhood school days. “When I was a kid I used to get the bus to school; my best friend sat next to me and I sat on the window seat,” he tells The Telegraph. “Every time I saw something out of the window I would say to my friend, ‘Mira, Mira!’ By the time he had leaned over to look, the thing had already passed.” That passing moment is a poignant metaphor for what many photographers struggle with in their daily work. How do you plan for the unplanned, let alone capture it?
It’s undoubtedly essential for a photographer to establish a safe and trusting environment for their subject(s), as time and again Testino speaks of the gracious relationships forged with his models, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender; the mutual respect and ease in which the work is founded. For example, Testino speaks fondly of his work with super model Kate Moss in a recent Mira Mira podcast, where the two sat down to reminisce about their myriad of photo shoots over the years. A reoccurring theme that arises time and again between the two is the relaxed atmosphere that lent itself to the unforgettable shots, with Moss frequently exclaiming “Oh THAT was a good night!” while Testino audibly responds with his trademark mixture of pride and modesty.
Whether it’s Kate Moss or The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Testino’s gift is undoubtedly in his ability to put his subjects at ease, to allow them to occupy the shoot and inhabit the space as organically as possible. Of his work with the royal couple, Testino insists to The Telegraph he had very little to do with the outcome: “When it comes to the royals and the engagement picture of Prince William and Kate Middleton, we could have done in a formal way or a relaxed way. They went for a relaxed way – it still was a very formal picture in a relaxed way.”
That effortless ease and pointed refusal to control his subjects has led to some of the most iconic shots captured in modern time, from Princess Diana’s serenely laid back Vanity Fair shoot of 1997 to a luminous Lupita Nyong’o on the cover of American Vogue. Testino explains, “The truth of the matter is that it took me 10 years to realize that what made a Mario Testino photo was the energy that I put into it or what I reacted to.” He continues, “When you calculate too much, you don’t get it. You have to be relaxed about it and let the things be what they are. I like my pictures looking like I didn’t think about it, but I started to walk around and take the picture as if I saw it by chance. Even though I work on this for around three weeks, and I control every single aspect of it from the manicure, to the lights to the clothes. But I like it to feel completely untried – no effort.”
Rising photographers can take heart in knowing that even the long-established Testino had to acquire all of the above knowledge and expertise in his own time, that his success is the product of years of trial and error, of learning and relearning: “You don’t know how long it took me to get to do those pages for Vogue,” he tells The Telegraph. “I thought I would never get it. It took me 20 years. It wasn’t easy. Vogue is very difficult to break into. It takes time to learn.”
Ultimately Mira Mira brings to light the moments and sights that inspire Testino’s work, from fine art to local Harbour Island churchgoers. No subject is too insignificant, no image too fleeting, to escape Testino’s camera and, perhaps more importantly, respect. “At the end of the day, I lead a very privileged life,” he reflects. “I get to travel the world to see everything. And if I can share it with other people, and say ‘Look, look!’, ‘Mira, mira!’ then why not?”
Just as Mira Mira is a testament to the art of the spontaneous and unstructured shot, photographers can take a page from Testino’s body of work and apply it to their own practice. Have confidence in your talent but flexibility in your approach: no two models or subjects are the same; what makes one tick could completely deter another. By stepping back and allowing the moment to dictate the shot, for the subject’s own personality and unique style to emerge, you are capturing your own lasting “mira! mira!” moment.