When you think of photographer Mario Testino, you may think of his now-haunting 1997 portraits of Princess Diana for Vanity Fair, which turned out to be her last official sitting and presented the world with a woman in full — chic and a little sadder for being wiser.
But Testino might also bring to mind his prints and commercials for Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue fragrance, in which model David Gandy — sleekly muscular in his Dionysian beauty and tiny white swimsuit — more than held his own with a succession of female models off the isle of Capri.
“For over a century, whether treated as artist’s model, blue blood, housewife, sex object, sportswoman, woman’s woman, diva or vamp…woman has been the goddess of the godless fashion photographer,” Pierre Borhan writes in “Sir,” photographer Mario Testino’s hommage to the male of the species (Taschen, 504 pages, $69.99). “Beauty, elegance, chic and carnal attraction were the preserve of the eternal feminine.”
But amid the androgyny, feminism and gay rights movement of the 1970s, a re-dressing occurred, as it were.
“As women gained ever-greater access to the world of work, emancipated themselves and acquired their independence, so men began to enter into and soon to assert themselves unreservedly in the arena of charm, seduction and eroticism,” Borhan writes. “Testino was supremely well-equipped to make this evolution part of his complicity with the ‘new man,’ the male consumer who had learnt to take care of himself…. The man who photographed Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and other top models also brought beautiful males — svelte and muscular without being outrageously pumped — into his universe of desire.”
“It is a subject that has come into focus,” Testino tells Patrick Kinmoth in an interview that forms the other essay in the book. “The masculine image, a man’s personal style, changing attitudes to the male face and body: I feel pictures of men are now scrutinized in the same way by men as those of women have been for a long time by women.”
And, might we add, pictures of men are now scrutinized by women in the way those of women have long been viewed by men.
In “Sir,” there’s plenty to ponder. A male swimmer spreads his sculpted arms against the side of a pool in 1999 Los Angeles like the wings of a condor. A roaring Andy Murray wields his racket sideways at Testino’s camera in London for American Vogue, 2010. A pensive Pierce Brosnan leans against a convertible in San Francisco for a 2008 American Vogue shoot, looking very Bond, James Bond. A group of horsemen, decked out in traditional Peruvian riding costumes for a Vogue shoot with Karlie Kloss, poses outside a Lima home, their chocolate-colored capes thrown nattily about their shoulders.
It was in Lima that Testino was born to a businessman of Italian descent and his Irish-descended wife. University courses in economics, the law and international relations taught him that these subjects were not for him. Coming of age amid the sexual dynamism of the 1970s, he took off to London, studying photography at John Vickers’ and Paul Nugent’s studios.
“I didn’t go into fashion photography because of photography,” Borhan quotes him as saying. “It was because of the fashion.” The dressing — and the undressing.
Testino’s male nudes are, Borhan writes, intimate and immediate rather than erotic. They squeeze their perfectly molded butts into ball gowns; confront us sleepy-eyed, barring our gaze from moving down the hallway; or stand there full frontal. They’re too, um, cheeky and removed to be the work of one who wants to titillate.
“I’m not a voyeur,” Testino says. “When it comes to sex, I’d rather do it than watch it.”