A couple of years ago I had an exhibition at the MALI Museo de Arte in Lima. On seeing the positive reaction of my fellow countrymen, I started to feel my work should live in Peru so the people could feel it belonged to them.
Later, a friend brought a derelict building to my attention. I’ve always been obsessed with the great buildings that were put up after Peru became independent in 1821. Many of them were built in the 1850s but became largely disused due to their size and the cost of the upkeep. My friend suggested I buy the building and restore it. So I set up MATE, Asociación Mario Testino, and established there a permanent home for my work as well as a foundation to support local artists.
The foundation’s aim is to identify Peruvian artists who have talent but lack means. I want to give them an international platform to exhibit their work, which I hope in turn will help them get residences to show their work abroad. I love Lima; I feel excited by its potential and I am in the fortunate position of being able to create opportunities for people which they might not have had otherwise.
This foundation is also a way of saying thank you, as I think my nationality has in some ways been the key to my career. When I started out, all the other photographers on the circuit were German, Italian, French, American or British. My Peruvian background gave me a totally different perspective. It’s no secret that I adore Italy, London and Brazil — Italy because it’s part of my heritage, London because it’s the most exciting place in the world, full of tolerance, humour and individuality, and Brazil because it taught me what it is to have a really good time.
But home is where the heart is and, in a very humble way, I feel I carry the flag for Peru. I want to use that to my advantage. When I was younger, I considered entering the priesthood. My career followed another path in the end, but I still want to put my energy into good causes when and where I can.
MATE will open with ‘Todo o Nada’, an exhibition of my work that was first shown in Madrid in 2010. When choosing which of my portraits to include in the show, I decided to concentrate on putting together a collection of images that contradict but compliment each other. There are portraits of people dressed most exquisitely in couture; in others, the models are in a state of undress, even semi-nudity.
What I love about photography is being able to share what I see. Everyone I photograph adds something different; they are all fabulous and interesting in some way. Take Stella Tennant. Every time I work with her, the final result is completely different; each photograph is full of her personality. She is very down to earth and full of surprises. I have come to know her well. In fact, she married my assistant, David Lasnet. One day I was working with Stella and noticed there was something funny going on. When I asked her who she was flirting with, I realised one of my assistants was blushing furiously. They now have four children, one of whom is my goddaughter, Jasmine.
It has been fascinating working with models and watching their careers develop. I’ve always been obsessed with how people change through the years. When I first met Claudia Schiffer, she was only 17 and just embarking on modelling. Then her career took off and she became a supermodel. She has developed into such an interesting woman; she collects art and is always curious about life. The same can be said for Kate Moss. She and I have had parallel careers, despite the age gap between us. It takes a photo-grapher a lot longer to build a career than it does a model and Kate has been an inspiration to me from the very beginning — not only for her beauty, but also her style, kindness, humour and openness. She’s awesome.
Every person I photograph brings something unique with them; they are all fabulous, beautiful and interesting in some way. People often ask me who is the most beautiful person I’ve ever photographed and the honest answer is that it’s impossible to choose just one. But the portraits I took of Princess Diana have become iconic; they stay in people’s minds. So perhaps I should choose her, simply because she is the most everlasting.