Is that a macaw or a runway model? Mario Testino turns his camera to wildlife in new photo exhibition

Mario Testino: Gone Wild
Ara chloropterus, Brazil, 2022 (Image credit: © Mario Testino)

Mario Testino is a photographer best known for his fashion photographs, regarded as one of the best in the genre. Of late, Testino has turned his attention to a different subject: photographing a series of wildlife images that will be exhibited at Hamiltons Gallery in London, England. 

Mario Testino: Gone Wild is the name of the forthcoming exhibition featuring a stunning array of animals, from lions in Kenya to rare birds in Brazil. Not your typical wildlife photographs, though; Testino's images push the boundaries of the genre, photographing the animals as though a cross between a fashion editorial and a painting. 

Acinonyx jubatus, Kenya, 2023 (Image credit: © Mario Testino)

The photographs were captured in various countries around the world, "from eagles in Mongolia to zebras in Namibia". The natural habitats of the animals were transformed into "ideal, curated sets" that enabled Testino to blur the lines between nature and imagination. 

The photographs of the birds, in particular, look as though they are supermodels, in haute couture, papped on a night out. This sartorial view is intentional, and enables the viewer to look beyond the initial imagery to the deeper meaning behind the images. 

Equus zebra hartmannae, Namibia, 2022 (Image credit: © Mario Testino)

Diceros bicornis, Kenya, 2023 (Image credit: © Mario Testino)

Looking at the staging and design of the images, especially in the current photographic climate, you could be forgiven for thinking that these are AI-generated designs. They aren't, but they have been described as Testino's 'personal AI', representing a chronicle of his imagination. 

Personal AI, although a new term, is very much something I can understand, and Testino has used several post-production techniques to arrange, light, and make the images pop. The use of lighting and the augmentation of color in the photographs has given life to the scenes, and enables the animals to stand out among the darkened inky backdrop. Very much a technique out of Caravaggio's chiaroscuro playbook! 

Goura cristata, Brazil, 2022 (Image credit: © Mario Testino)

Aquila chrysaetos (I), Mongolia, 2019 (Image credit: © Mario Testino)

The new Gone Wild series is the most recent from Testino's ongoing project A Beautiful World, which was first exhibited at Hamiltons in 2019. The larger project explores and documents the cultural traditions of people and the natural world from around the globe. 

Mario Testino: Gone Wild will be on exhibition at Hamiltons Gallery, London, from November 21 2023, to February 03 2024. The prints demand to be seen in the flesh, as each is printed on C-type Fujifilm Supergloss mounted on aluminum, enabling the colors and detail to sing!

This work is very much a combination of fashion and wildlife techniques so you may be interested in our guides to the best books on fashion photography and the best lenses for bird photography

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Kalum Carter
Staff Writer

Kalum Carter is a UK-based photographer, writer, and photo editor. Kalum has been working as a freelance photographer for the best part of ten years, covering a wide range of assignments for well-known brands and publications in areas including portraiture, fashion, and documentary. 

Between commercial assignments, Kalum is currently working on a personal photography project exploring his connection to the Gower region of South Wales UK, as part of an MA in Photography from The University of West England.