I guess that I need to begin today’s blog with an apology. A week ago I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see the exhibit of fashion photographer Mario Testino. Actually, this was two exhibits “British Royal Photographs,” and “In Your Face,” which highlights his work for fashion magazines. My apology is that these splendid exhibits of this Boston born photographer are scheduled to close today.
These exhibits are the handiwork of museum curator Malcom Rogers. Rogers has swollen the ranks of museum visitors by expanding audience appeal with such exhibits as “Speed Style and Beauty“, which exhibited vintage cars from the Ralph Lauren collection and “Fashion Show: Paris Collection 2006“. What these exhibits do is legitimize what we already viscerally recognize as art.
As for Testino, there can be no question, that this is art and that this artist is a master. The art-form is the heavily staged world of the fashion shoot. The artist is assisted by a large crew of aids and assistants. The set and the image are finely constructed.
Perhaps the best way to say this is to explore some of my favorite images from the collection. First and foremost “Sienna Miller, American Vogue, 2007.” This is a photographer’s photograph. Almost the entire scene is in a pale blueish white except the figure, who explodes from her dress in color. The statues all reach outward creating a sense of motion, while the model bends forward just slightly in contrast. Do I have to mention the rule of thirds organization?
Then we have “Gweneth Paltrow, Paris 2005.” The trick of having your subject jump is famous. A lot of portrait artists use it to take away inhibition. The subject suddenly concentrates on the jump and reveals themselves. Actually, one of the interesting observations I had as I walked about the exhibit was that among all the celebrities photographed Paltrow invariably seemed spontaneous and herself.
Next, I was amazed by “Aston Kutcher Gets Real, 2008” for the cover of VMan. We find Kutcher in a white suit his hands clasped together. But wait! His right arm is not connected to his right hand, and his torn jacket reveals, not sinew and muscle, but a mechanical mechanism. This is simple, genius, and compelling! Well, maybe not so simple to execute.
And then there’s this, simply beautiful black and white portrait of “Emma Watson Wearing White Gloves, 2010,” It is just wonderful and perfect.
Just think, I made it all the way through this blog without showing you Tom Brady with a growling doberman or anybody’s genitalia. Mario Testino is a talented artist and has contributed some magnificent and iconic images to our culture. There is however, a world of saprophytic mutual exploitation in fashion, which also comes out in this exhibit. Indeed, Testino played a major role in designing the exhibit and one of his stated intents, or so the entry text to the exhibit states, was to provoke. So tomorrow I’d like to climb up on my highest horse and discuss this darker side.