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Let me In

The beauty of life is all there in a moment

The beauty of life is all there in a moment
Conversation between Mario Testino and Patrick Kinmoth

PK As a photographer you are given extraordinary opportunities and access. So why did you call this book “Let Me In”?
MT It’s true, I am let into all kinds of places to photograph at special moments but I often feel amazed to be there.“Let Me In” is about bringing other people into those moments.

PK So the book is an invitation to party with you. And to go with you where you go.
MT Yes, in a way I see it as a diary written with a camera. This work belongs to a period of about three years. Maybe its because I have photographed almost everybody in here at least once before, that now, the second or third time around, I feel ready to drop my defenses and so do they. That helps a lot. As a photographer you have to try to find something new to say about the people around you, and they allow me to do that.

PK Are most of these pictures taken around official sittings, before and after work...?
MT Some, but a lot of the pictures are nothing to do with sittings. Many are from parties. Or sometimes I wanted to photograph somebody I was just hanging out with at home or I’ve gone over to show him or her something I have done of them and ended up taking more pictures. But often, too, taking spontaneous photographs with a little camera even with no intention of using them can break the ice before a session.

PK I suppose it deals with the photographer’s equivalent of the painter’s fear of the blank page… the first frame…
MT Sometimes there may be just a couple of frames that seem to work when I look at them later. Very occasionally, if I feel they add an interesting dimension, I propose these photographs to the magazines as well.

PK In that kind of picture you are seeing people at their most real and unconstructed…
MT The only problem is that usually at that stage they are not wearing the right clothes, or are getting undressed or something, so often they really are unusable images with no editorial value as such. But I was interested to put them together here and see how they add up.

PK Some pictures here are rough, out of focus, but they have their own energy. Sometimes their beauty is unconventional but it is still beauty. And together they make up a sort of collage that captures a world…
MT I suppose it has come a point where most of the people that are in this book trust me when I take a photograph of them. It does not have to be in the context of perfect hair and make-up in the studio. I hope I always put the person in the picture before me, by which I mean that even if the picture is in some way shocking, I am not going to run that picture if the person doesn’t look great. People know that when I go to photograph them I would only choose something I consider a good picture afterwards. It’s my job.

PK What makes a picture of somebody good for you?
MT I think when it conveys a certain kind of well-being, of exuberance, sensuality, the enjoyment of a moment, collusion, intelligence, humor, a glimpse of that person as they are in private… a lot of things at once. Beauty is so related to your state of mind, to your mood at that particular second…

PK So in these spontaneous pictures you get what you might want to achieve later in a more carefully constructed way? Is it a kind of sketchbook for you?
MT Yes, precisely. I try to take the lessons of these pictures into my work. In fact I often construct my work to look as if I just happened to be there with a camera at the right time. Like most people, I want to hide the work that goes into making pictures, because I love the idea that the beauty of life is all there in a moment, for a splitsecond: captured in the photograph. And the reality is like that… sometimes you are sitting in a car looking out of the window, you see something beautiful, but by the time you say to your friend, “look!” it has disappeared. I want to keep those moments.

PK Or find them, even make them.
MT Exactly. But I usually like the unexpected, it often has a newer kind of beauty.

PK It is like a rehearsal that ends up being a performance. And rehearsals are genuinely often more exciting. There is an added element of uncertainty. These photographs are mostly taken with nobody around supporting you, no assistants or your team …
MT Many, not all, of these pictures are taken with automatic cameras. So with them I do not need assistants… I use auto-focus, the camera determines the exposure, and I can concentrate, look and shoot. In fact these cameras ARE my assistants. But my real assistants, and my collaborators, are indispensable to my work. Even if they are not always around when I photograph, and they usually are, they make all my work possible.

PK Sometimes in these pictures you are aware that the person is performing for you, doing something quite extreme, whether it is Robbie Williams putting on a bra or somebody pulling their pants down or showing their body in a provocative way… do you encourage these moments?
MT It is wonderful when they happen, but only if the person is happy to go there. I want to laugh with my friends not at them, and that goes for everyone I photograph. Its about appreciation rather than exposure. I used to go to backstage at the shows and I realized that the girls enjoyed doing something just for me. I think its about the fact that I would never ask anyone to do things that I am not prepared to do myself. They would immediately say to other photographers who might come over “no, no you can’t look but you can, Mario”. “Let Me In” is also about acknowledging that kind of special compliment. I have also had the chance to go to the party highlights of these years which are the Oscar parties in LA given by Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair and the Metropolitan Costume Institute parties in New York given by Anna Wintour of Vogue America.Wherever you look there is somebody fascinating, famous, beautiful, talented and I was lucky enough to be there and able to record some of it. Thankfully they let me in!