'South Americana' highlights images from Testino’s ongoing project ‘A Beautiful World’ which explores cultural traditions and symbols of peoples around the globe. Whilst Mario Testino has historically been recognised as one of the world’s most in-demand commercial and fashion photographers, his life and career’s real magnum opus is at its genesis.
The series takes at its heart themes which, like the overall project, reflect the origins of the artist himself. Peruvian in origin, Testino has returned repeatedly to the Andes to explore the regions hidden cultural histories such as in his 2007-2020 project Alta Moda. Unlike this project which focused on a very specific fashion from the mountains of Peru, ‘South Americana’ captures the spirit of the larger region and universal truths to be found within it.
The exhibition in 2021 was divided into two separate but coherent parts.
The first gallery is filled with prints of vibrantly coloured vaqueros from Colombia. Long before the American cowboy, these mounted cattle herders, became experts in a style of horsemanship with roots as far back as 500 years. Their style of equitation is renowned for its strength and beauty, emphasised by the synergy between horse and rider. Taken in the Llanos sunrise, these vaqueros are made abstract, in silhouette which evades a sense of portraiture and forces to the surface the harmony of the men, the horses and their environment.
The second gallery features prints of cacti. Displayed before neutral toned backgrounds, the desert plants appear like subjects in a portrait studio. In groups of two or more, each individual cactus appears in dialogue with its opposite. Their setting anthropomorphises the plants: short, stout, and spritely or tall, animated, or delicate. In the manner of Irving Penn’s famous pictures of flowers, the dialogue between each cactus serves to enhance the essence of the individual whilst emphasising a sense of natural community.
The pairing of the cactus and the vaqueros in the gallery reinforces the motivations of Testino’s endeavour. In ‘A Beautiful World’, Testino does not simply represent beauty as he finds it. Testino unearths beauty that is not reliant on the circumstance of his subjects. Like Pygmalion creating his ideal lover – Testino fashions and moulds universal concepts derived from his travels and explorations. He presents us with a ‘beautiful world’ to discover that may be universal and still entirely unique to each and every viewer.
The exhibition will run from 3 November 2021 to 08 January 2022 at Hamiltons Gallery, London.