There’s an image in SIR that sums up the book, Mario’s testament to masculinity, as a whole. A pouting Josh Hartnett, in a white tuxedo, casually sketches some rouge onto his lips. He’s not quite dishevelled, not quite done-up, but he messes with the viewer, skewing convention and his own heartthrob image at the same time.
Of course, the fashion world demands a certain kind of heightened reality. This allows it to not so much tear up the rulebook as throw it away entirely. SIR, which spans decades of portraiture, also spans different eras of masculinity – it shows us how we’ve progressed from the waifish punks of the 80s, to the muscular metrosexuals of the 90s, with many different styles in between. As such, the book offers not just a kaleidoscope of male imagery from the fashion world– it dips into different subcultures, like the military and surfer culture, to show a full spectrum of masculinity.
In the foreword to SIR, Patrick Kinmonth interviews Mario, who claims that “pictures of men are now scrutinized in the same way, by men, as those of women have been for a long time, by women”. These are men not defined by the industry in which they operate, their masculinity is derived from a strong sense of self, independent of their public perception. No matter the subject, there is a freewheeling and free-spirited nature to each image. In this way, they’re similar to his portraits of women – the portraits of Diana, the covers with Kate, the editorials with Gisele. The common thread between these pictures and those in SIR is that the subjects allow themselves to be shown in a revealing, unencumbered fashion.
Likewise, common among the men in SIR is a willingness to be exposed, not just by undressing, but by showing a certain vulnerability. Mario admits this is the norm in his line of work; “a person being photographed, whoever they are, is vulnerable”. The nudes in SIR, depicting an early era of Testino’s career, manage to straddle the divide between being tender and erotic. The surrealism of these shots is not lost on either Mario or his subject, as they mix the elegant with the underground. This leads Mario to certain icons, such as David Beckham, whose fearlessness in style refuted stereotypes of ‘the sportsman’. Similarly David Bowie, who features in SIR, toyed with convention, at a time Mario found the industry still dominated by it. These are some of the figures willing to be objects of desire, submitting to a different gaze.
SIR shows, as Pierre Borhan states in his introductory essay, “how Mario became Testino”. Canvassing his career up until 2015, there are the bold colours and heightened reality we expect, but also a wry sexuality and sense of humour. SIR traverses styles to show fluid gender, masculine subcultures and archetypes. It works as a biography of sorts, while showing this gallery of rogues, dandies and gentlemen, jostling for attention – “each a Sir, thoroughly Sir, from head to toe”.
Photographs © Mario Testino