He walks in dressed all in black, from his expensive shoes to his shirt, open at the neck. And that smile… curious, warm and slightly bashful. Mario Testino, one of the world’s most vibrant fashion photographers, sits and chats about his work and shares his stories like we were old friends.
This is his third visit to Dubai, a city he describes as presenting endless possibilities. “This city is so much about living and doing,” he says. “This is so precious.”
Testino is here to oversee the installation of his first Dubai exhibition, Heat, which is currently showing at a purpose-built gallery in the evocative d3 design district. The space is bright and intimate and is, according to many, exactly what an ideal studio should look like. It personifies the energy, creativeness and architecture
On display are some of his favourite muses from the world of fashion and music. Under the playful eye of Kate Moss, the fierce gaze of Naomi Campbell, the sultry smile of Madonna, we listen to Testino as he bares his soul and lays his art at our feet. “Madonna was the first person to put me out in the limelight of the world,” he smiles.
He feels fiercely protective of his famous clientele and this only adds to his charm. When asked how he deals with the enormous personalities he works with, he says: “If I wasn’t a photographer I would have been a performer. Many of them now I know well, but in the early stages, I performed for them to break the ice. At the end of the day, I am there to make them look good and I am there to protect them.”
Testino speaks passionately about his beginnings in Peru and his deep attachment to his home country. For many who will come to enjoy his exhibition, this will resonate deeply, with countries of birth being air miles away. “You must look to your roots and define where you come from,” he says. “The colourfulness in my photography is from my background, growing up in Peru.”
The artist brings much of this colour to Dubai and the three photographs from his Alta Moda collection stand alone on their own wall. He speaks proudly and humbly of how this collection was the most successful exhibition in his gallery in Lima. “I am a global figure with a deep attachment to my home country,” he says. “I am often torn between what is new and what is tradition. We need to look back in order to move forward.”
We ask him what makes the perfect image. He thinks for a moment and then, with a great honesty, says, “When I take a photograph, I must give it to the person that I am photographing because it belongs to them, it doesn’t belong to me. The person who is in there, it shows them at their most powerful moment.”
As the temperature creeps upwards over the next few weeks, Testino’s Heat is sure to be a welcome distraction. Glossy and glamorous, just like the man.
Free. Until April 15. Dubai Design District (d3) (056 503 4852056 503 4852).