Scenes From Mario Testino's Alta Moda Opening at The Dallas Contemporary.
As promised, influential fashion photographer Mario Testino arrived in Dallas this weekend for a meet-and-greet and question-and-answer session as his latest exhibition, “Alta Moda,” opened at the Dallas Contemporary.
And, for Dallas' fashion photography-focused set, having this man in town was certainly a dream come true — even as the exhibit his presence celebrated was meant to offer something a little different than what Testino's fans might normally expect to see, given his published work in Vogue, Vanity Fair or any other number of glossies. Instead of high-fashion photographs, these images on hand at the Dallas Contemporary were meant to offer insight into Testino's native Peruvian culture and fashions — while also shedding light onto what this man is truly capable of.
But, even so, the man himself was the major draw on Sunday. As such, attendees of yesterday's opening event eagerly arrived with reverent looks in their eyes and signature-needing magazines and books in hand. Testino, for his part, seemed pleased with this warm reception, smiling as he greeted his cheering audience for the speaking portion of the opening, and even taking a quick break to photograph the crowd with his small point-and-shoot.
Once the question-and-answer session began, though, the excited room fell silent as everyone on hand intently listened to all Testino had to say. And the man indeed had plenty to offer there, talking about his beginnings as a fashion photographer and what makes him different than his contemporaries.
“[With] fashion, sometimes, I think we are too anal at perfecting things,” Testino told his crowd. “But perfection sometimes becomes boring. I always perfect it — and then destroy it. It can be through a shoot or a performance, anything. But I try to make to a moment that wouldn't exist before or after.”
This certainly applies to “Alta Moda,” which he then went on to explain in concept.
“My everyday work is based on getting something out of the person I'm photographing,” Testino said. “This is what makes me known in my pieces. I give my picture to whoever I'm photographing; I want to make them look the most amazing they've ever looked, and the most real. With this work, for the first time, I embraced something [different]. In our business, most people care about the dress [more] than about the person that is wearing the dress. In this particular work, I almost took the people away. [But] you can feel them because of the way they hold themselves. They have a lot of pride, and I didn't really want them to bring their personality out because I really wanted them to talk to me of the history in these dresses, and the way time has gone past [as these people] haven't moved.”
You can definitely see that in this body of work; the cultural costumes that the Peruvians are wearing in these images speak out more than the model's expressions do.
And that was the goal, really. It was when Testino discovered another Peruvian photographer who documented this cultural attire that it dawned on Testino that he was too absorbed in the life of high fashion himself to have ever really embraced his home country's culture. This show, which serves as a penance for that, definitely embraces that change in perspective. So, too, does the fact that Testino's recently purchased a home back in Peru.
So, yes, it was meant to be different than much of his editorial work — a fact that Testino himself, conceded.
“When I work for magazines — especially today — everyone is obsessed with the life of the people,” he said. “It has a lot to do with the person I'm photographing. “The clothes become an accessory to them. In this case, the clothes become the story.”
And, at the Dallas Contemporary, Testino tells a fine one.