mario testino talks gender play and male erotica in fashion
The legendary photographer’s latest and biggest book to date, SIR, defines the allure of men in over 300 photos from his 35 year archive.
From the buffed, bronzed and hyper-sexualized to the suited, booted and uber-groomed, the masculine form has carved its own swoon-worthy space in the world of fashion photography. Although these stereotypes of masculinity may be the first that pop into our heads, today's photos also feature skinny boys with long hair, male models wearing heels and men from cultures with entirely different tropes of manhood. In his 35 year career as king of the glossy fashion photograph, Mario Testino has seen them all.
Testino's latest, limited edition book, SIR, cuts the Kate Mosses and Princess Dianas out of his archive and leaves behind only the strapping lads who don't always get the attention they deserve. "The way men are seen in photography, in fashion, and the way that men look at pictures of themselves has changed in recent years," Testino explains. "It is a subject that has come into focus. The masculine image, a man's personal style, changing attitudes to the male face and body." Ladies, hold onto your knickers…
How has the way men are viewed in fashion changed since you started out in the industry?
It's funny, because one might think that men's fashion changes very slowly. In a way this is true; there are strong traditions and uniforms that carry on. But when I look back over all this work, I see massive changes as well as massive variety. I made the conscious decision at the beginning of my career to travel to where the work was, and ever since, I have been almost constantly traveling. Over more than 30 years, I have been a witness to changing fashions and styles from New York to Tokyo, London to Rio... Even in things as traditional as the suit, there have been great changes. This book is like a conversation with my camera about curiosity and freedom.
Has the way men look at themselves changed?
Yes, I feel now men do have more options and possibilities available than when I first started out. That never stopped people, though. In fact, we probably took more risks when there were less options available to us. It's funny how that happens. I remember growing up in conservative Peru and as a teenager I would wear flowery trousers or other equally crazy styles - crazy for the traditional society in which I grew up. It was a real risk to wear clothes like that. The risk taking is just different now. Everyone is so exposed and connected. It's almost like we can see everything.
Do you think every instance of nudity has an aspect of sexuality to it?
I think there can be sexuality, and sensuality, in everything to different degrees, not just nudity. Of course, nudity is often more obvious, but sometimes one can look at a nude and appreciate it for something other than any sexual connotation. Sometimes nudes can be studies. Certainly for me, I photographed many nudes at the beginning of my career as a study of how light reacted and how I could work with light.
Do you think that's the same for women?
I don't like to think of men and women as different just based on their sex alone. Nor do I think women are one way and men are another. For me, to think like that is just limiting.
How do you think people's attitudes towards aspects of erotica in fashion photographs of men have changed?
Like with many subjects in fashion photography, today it feels like we can be more up front, more "in your face" about things because of our access. Images are so readily available to us all, but it's not just a modern phenomenon. The access to images, especially though social media platforms, is the modern phenomenon, but the approach has long been there. Look at the work of Helmut Newton for example, or even Mapplethorpe, though of course he was less fashion and more fine art.
Who do you prefer to photograph, men or women?
For me, it's really not that simple. For me, it's about people more than what gender they belong to.
Do you think men need to feature more in fashion editorials?
I think they do already, probably more than they have done before. There are now lots of style magazines dedicated to men. In the 90s, I started including men in a lot of my editorials and advertising campaigns. For me, a couple could say more about style than one person alone.
What's your favorite photograph from SIR?
That would be really impossible to say. You know, every picture has it's own unique memory and I couldn't pick a favorite. This is my biggest book to date in terms of the amount of images included. We went back and looked through my entire archive of personal work, commissioned shoots and editorials. There is just so much and it's all so varied, it would be too difficult to choose one picture over another.
Text Felicity Kinsella
Images courtesy Mario Testino