Known as one of the most prominent photographers of the last decade, Mario Testino has grown to become the go-to for many esteemed celebrities and royals, as well some of the biggest fashion magazines. This year, the Peruvian photographer—who in September will auction a selection of his work to benefit the Mate Museum of Peru—celebrates 36 years of his career. With this achievement, Testino spoke to People en Español about the influence of his Peruvian background, the quality he admires most in women and his new goal in creating images that celebrate a positive attitude.
You have worked with some of the most beautiful women in the world such as Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss and Princess Diana, what is your definition of beauty today?
When I started working in the 80s, we were still influenced by the 50s, and that’s why our goal [when shooting then] was for the hair, makeup, everything to be perfect. Suddenly, in the 90s came the real woman, and fashion magazines began to show the woman that you see walking on the street. Real beauty resists the passage of time.
What do you think of photo editing and the fact that so many people, especially on social media, retouch their photos?
It’s a rather complicated subject, but I’m not in favor of retouching to change a person’s physiognomy, and I’m not just talking about digitally. Retouching should be limited to improving what already exists. If you want to make a change in your hair, you cut it, which is a retouch. If you wear makeup to improve your face, that is retouching. Even going to the dentist can be considered a retouch. If you can make things look as you imagine them in your head, you should be allowed to. Sometimes, when the wall does not have the height I’m looking for, I can extend it digitally. That is enhancing.
What attracted you to Dove’s #Realbeauty campaign in which you photographed real-life women?
I love that Dove is investing not only in promoting their products for hair and skin care but in actually empowering women. In a trajectory of 60 years, the brand has worried about women and in celebrating their real beauty. I think this is very important in these times when we have to be as inclusive as possible to have a positive impact on the world.
What do you think of the fact that the world of fashion is beginning to include models and women with different types of bodies, nationalities, and ages?
By showing different types of bodies, nationalities, and ages, fashion becomes more exciting. Beauty is contemplated in another way, which makes us grow creatively in different ways. There is no longer a single vision of beauty.
You were born and raised in Lima, Peru. Tell us how your background has influenced your work.
Lima was always a source of inspiration for me and my work. The colors, the traditions, the architecture, the history, etc. —all these things have impacted my work in an amazing way. Latino culture is based on the warmth shared with other, and I think my work reflects that positive attitude.
Your career has certainly been a success, but if you had to change something, or give advice to people who start a creative job like yours, what would you say?
Be open to criticism from the start. It took me a long time to accept other people’s opinions and see them as beneficial. I always considered them a threat, rather than a helping hand to improve.
What qualities of a woman attracts you most as a photographer?
There are different things that attract me, it depends a lot on each woman. But I think what attracts me most is a positive attitude and a smile. A smile makes you look good. In the photos where everyone looks great, you will usually find that everyone is smiling.
Who influenced the way you see beauty?
Everything inspires me. I can be in a room looking out the window and even watching the clouds move, and that can move me. Or I can be in a thrift store looking at vintage items and taking inspiration from those things. I think inspiration can come from anything. My editors also influence my vision of beauty because they all see beauty in different people, styles, and tastes. Fashion Director Lucinda Chambers recently took me to Cornwall for a photo shoot, and the subject was the tourists. It’s not something I used to focus on, but she made me see it in a completely different way.
How would you define this moment in your career? What things are peaking your interest or inspiring you for your next project?
As a Latin American, I have a very positive view of life, but it is an aspect that I have not yet exploded to the fullest. When I began to take pictures of people smiling, many people despised them and considered them very commercial. Now I want to discover how to make that positive attitude and that way of working and photographing credible within the industry.
Translated by Thatiana Diaz