Mario Testino is a renowned fashion & portrait photographer, known around the world. Responsible for the creation of always captivating imagery that is part of decades of fashion history now, EAST is a bit of a departure for him. Mayfair’s Hamiltons Gallery showcases 18 images.
The exhibition comprises two subject matters – Japanese flowers on lustrous golden screens that blend the mediums of painting & photography & vividly tattooed men, entwined & keeping the observer guessing. Testino distinctly capturing the stunning vibrancy of Japanese historical traditions & making the viewer see them in a new, unexpected light.
Flower Still Lifes
Inspired by traditional “Ukiyo-e”, one of the most admired genres of Japanese art, translated as ‘pictures of the floating world’, each delicate flower and stem is captured by Testino’s lense in the most surprising and elegant way. You will end up standing quietly in front of each image, transfixed, the mind playing a guessing game – is that a photo or a painting?
Each flower signifying an idea, like truth, sincerity, humbleness, splendour. With golden screens acting as backdrops, each reflecting & enhancing the delicacy of flowers, leaves and stems.
Interestingly, golden screens used to be room dividers in Japanese homes & apartments, but in time they started to be positioned as luxury ornaments, used for ceremonial occasions. There is a whole room at Hamiltons that is dedicated to those precious, yet strong images, enhanced by the changing natural light, streaming through the ceiling skyline.
Irezumi Tattooed Men by Horiyoshi III
In contrast to the delicacy of blooms, there is another room, which showcases tattoos male bodies. Or rather Testino’s photographs of boldly tattooed men. You only see their bodies, every inch of skin covered by ink. Each tattooed by the renowned Japanese Irezumi tattoo artist Horiyoshi III.
“Irezumi” technique, meaning ‘inserting ink’, is fairly rare and Horiyoshi III is only the second tattooist to be granted the honorific title. He tattoos with no advance plan, improvising as he goes along, relying on personal knowledge, skill and instinct. The special Nara ink that he uses in his work requires at times painful & time-consuming application process controlled by the tattooist, not the client.
To this day tattoos have an air of taboo around them and cannot be visible in public in Japan. Part of the reason is the association of Irezumi tattoos with the Japanese mafia, known universally as Yakuza. By choosing to shoot the artistry of the tattoos & capturing entertwined nude male bodies, Testing chose to expose Japanese rich tradition in all its colourful glory.
Having seen quite a few of Mario Testino exhibitions, including his significant retrospective of work a few years ago in London, this exhibition is a clear departure for the photographer. Visually & spiritually. On this occasion he showcases the shift of his gaze and point of reference and attention. This time the photographer senses and eyes are zeroing on documenting traditions & people from around the world. Showcasing emotions and energy, capturing them in a different light and paying particular attention to the cultures and traditions. A challenge for him and a challenge for those coming to view this exhibition. Finding balance and traction in the fusion of change & tradition.
Mario Testino “EAST” at Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Place, London W1K 19 November 2019-7 February 2020