LOS ANGELES, United States — “[In Spanish] ‘mira mira’ means ‘look look.’ When I was a kid and took the bus to school, I always sat on the window side and my best friend sat next to me,” says Mario Testino, sitting back on a couch at Smashbox Studios in the Culver City neighbourhood of Los Angeles, the golden-hour light signalling his day of shooting is done. “I would always say, ‘look look!’ But by the time he looked, whatever it was would already be gone, because the bus was moving.”
Decades later — Testino is now 61 — the same insatiable curiosity drove the creation of Miramira.tv, Testino’s new content play, which collects together never-before-published photographs, travel diaries, behind-the-scenes takes from his popular Instagram “Towel Series,” his philanthropic work and a podcast that is launching with a conversation between Testino and his longtime collaborator Kate Moss. “[Mira Mira] allows me to show and communicate what I’ve seen, what I’ve looked at, what I’m liking.”
The site’s unveiling comes days after Testino hosted a 48-hour hackathon with Stanford University students in Palo Alto, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. (His brief to the crowd: “What could the next frontier of visual communications look like?”) This may sound like an unlikely move for the fashion photographer, but it reflects Testino’s general philosophy on business and life. “The kids don’t have 35 years of experience, but they have hundreds of years of knowledge through access,” he explains. “The mix of that is quite magical. In a way, I’m looking for new ideas, new ways of seeing things, new ways of solving a challenge.”
Testino’s interest in new media-technology platforms began in earnest when he joined Instagram three years ago. But his curiosity was first piqued before then, when former Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts urged him to join Facebook. “Look how one can stay behind so easily. I thought, ‘Why do I need Facebook when I already have email?’ Little did I know…” he says. “We’ve entered a generation that is all about now. I get surprised when I post something on Instagram and in the first 20 minutes, 10,000 or 20,000 people have already commented.” Testino currently has 2.5 million followers on Instagram and more than 500,000 likes on Facebook.
“Three years ago, people still thought that social media was going to ruin ‘real’ photography,” adds Suki Larson, chief executive of Mario Testino+, the photographer’s business, which comprises creative direction, art direction, moving image and photography, but also graphic design, product development, trend research and forecasting, among other services. “Social media gave Mario a chance to connect with his fans,” she says.
For 35 years, I worked through my editors and clients. It’s always, at the end of the day, their voice... Today I could exist regardless of whether the fashion people like me or not.
It's also an opportunity to create new branding opportunities, which could result in new revenue streams. “We view Mira Mira as a significant next step for us, the chance to proactively create digital content and pursue digital projects,” Larson says. “Mario has many ideas for projects, people he would like to collaborate with, aspects of his life he would like to share, people in his life he would like to celebrate, etc. We are launching Mira Mira as a means to create and activate new content, which we will disseminate through social channels, media partners and other partners. Once disseminated the content will ‘land' on our own URL, which will curate the content into various features and series that end up serving as a sort of ‘World of Mario Testino.’”
While each of these products could easily live in the unbundled world of social media — a podcast on Soundcloud, a photo essay on Instagram — Larson believes have a centralised home base was a crucial step. “We view Mira Mira as complementary,” she says. “Each platform has its strengths and limitations. With Mira Mira we can create the content we desire in the medium, or mixed media, that we feel suits and use the related social platforms as complements.”
"Under the Towel," a look inside Mario Testino's "Towel Series" | Source: Mira Mira
Indeed, while other top tier creatives worried about misuse of photography and copyright infringement on social media platforms, Testino quickly understood that he could use them to showcase unpublished work and build his personal brand. “For 35 years, I worked through my editors and clients. It’s always, at the end of the day, their voice. I am part of the process, but it is Anna Wintour who decides American Vogue, or Christopher Bailey who decides Burberry, or Michael Kors who decides Michael Kors,” he says. “Today I could exist regardless of whether the fashion people like me or not. We see a lot of people who have huge followings and my business hasn’t looked at them or has missed them. It’s quite an interesting time in that sense for me.”
Mira Mira is an extension of that idea. “Before, I used to publish books because I had access to all these parties, people and houses, and I would photograph everything. The whole point was to share it with people,” he says. “Today, I feel that the books are limited because you can only reach a certain amount of people. Whereas online, you can reach 2 million people in one go. There’s something about sharing that I find very interesting, and very of today. So it makes sense to put it online.”
Today, in New York City, Testino will cap off a week of new beginnings by reflecting on the past as he receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the advertising industry’s annual Clio Awards. But like many hard working talents, the photographer, who began his career from a London squat, prefers the way forward. “It’s the doing that makes you get better. Everything has changed, I think I should already be over in a way,” he reasons. “I think there is something to be said about staying open to everything and anything. Curiosity is the biggest gift that you have.”
Editor's note: This article was revised on 28 September 2016. An earlier version of this article misstated that the URL of Mario Testino's website was Miramira.com. This is incorrect. The URL of the website is Miramira.tv.