From Paltrow to Moss - Mario makes the stars shine

Story by Jack Foley

HE has photographed some of the most famous people in the world and is the favourite photographer of many a female star. Now, Peru-born Mario Testino becomes the focus of attention for thousands of enthusiasts across the capital, as his debut major exhibition opens at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Testino has been combining the world of portrait art with the fashion industry for some 25 years, capturing some of the world's most beautiful women on camera. Gwyneth Paltrow has declared that Testino has taken her father's favourite photograph of her, while Kate Moss simply describes him as 'the best'. He is said to have discovered Gisele, while other notable photo shoots have included the likes of Liz Hurley (pictured above) and Madonna.

The most famous point in his career came in 1997, however, when he shot the pictures for Vanity Fair which were to become the last official photographs of Diana: Princess of Wales. She died three months later in a Paris car crash. But the shoot drew acclaim from all quarters for the way in which it made the Princess look not only glamorous, but happy. They were even said to suggest an intimacy between photographer and subject that suggested a very special bond.

The pictures, needless to say, are included in the exhibition of over 100 pictures which now adorn the walls of London's premier gallery - some of them blown up to huge proportions. They can be viewed for the next four months, until June 4.

These portraits of models, royals, film stars and fashionistas aren't great art, but they are great fun: frozen fractions of what look like immensely enjoyable seconds, they exist to inspire envy and pleasure in equal doses for the length of a fashion moment. And then they'll be gone.

Testino - the fact file

Born in Lima, Peru, in 1954, Mario Testino was the son of well-to-do Italian immigrants. Sent to the city's American school, where he studied economics, law and international relations, his first ambition was to become a priest but his love of couture compelled him to travel to London in 1976, aged 21.

He was first noticed by Lucinda Chambers, now fashion director of Vogue, and his career in magazine photography began, haltingly at first. By 1995, when Ford signed him for Gucci, he was féted as an infallible clairvoyant of trend.

Other highpoints of a distinguished career include being asked by Gianni Versace to photograph Madonna wearing his 1995 winter collection. The collaboration would lead Testino becoming the first person to photograph the singer with her daughter, Lourdes.

Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Voge, is quoted as saying that in Mario's world, 'everyone is beautiful'. But given that he is not afraid to enhance his photographs digitally to create polished complexions, thus air-brushing some ten years off a person in some cases, it is little wonder.

Whatever you think of his work, however, it is difficult to imagine that some won't fail to impress. And while his exhibition may seem like a radical departure from the usual art to be found at the National Portrait Gallery, there is no denying that it is fun. This is, after all, the world we all aspire to - the glitz and the glamour. If nothing else, a stroll around the gallery's long corridors enables a person to loose themselves in that world for just a few moments...

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place WC2, daily 10am to 6pm (Thu and Fri to 9pm), £6, £4 concs. Tel: 020 7306 0055. Website: www.npg.org.uk
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square