being photographed by mario testino
I've been working with the Dove brand for several years now, primarily on their Self Esteem Project; so when I got an email from one of my contacts at Dove about 6 weeks ago asking if I could be in LA for a photo shoot the following week, I didn't really raise an eyebrow. "It's the 60th anniversary of Dove's beauty bar," she explained. "And they're looking for real women to photograph for a special event."
"Sure," I immediately responded. I love working with Dove. Then as an afterthought: "As long as I'm not going to be photographed in my underwear."
(Because, you know, with Dove, you never know.)
"No, I don't think you'll be in your underwear," my friend wrote back. ("'Think'?" I worried to myself.)
But off I went. And that's how, in late January, I found myself in the most fabulous loft space in Los Angeles with 5 other women, being photographed by none other than Mario Testino. As in, the Mario Testino. The one who shot those iconic photographs of Princess Diana. And the cover image of my favourite Madonna album. My photography idol.
I can't begin to tell you what a thrill this was for me. Because this was for Dove, a brand that is committed to showing real women, I knew going in that I wasn't going to have to worry about them making me look like anything other than I am: I was told to bring clothes that made me feel great to wear, and the makeup artist took great care to make sure my makeup was as natural as possible (they even took the nail polish I was wearing off, so that my nails were bare). And obviously, it was such an honour to be in front of Mr. Testino's camera. But mostly, I just wanted to watch him work. So when it was my time to sit for him, I studied him carefully, trying to soak up every minute.
So here's the thing about Mr. Testino: if I was forced to come up with a single word to describe him, that word would undoubtedly be elegant. He's tall -- much taller than I expected -- and was so incredibly kind. When he greeted me, he put his hand on my shoulder, like I was just the person he'd been wanting to meet all day. (I haven't washed my shoulder since that day.) (I'm kidding.) (Or am I?). He was the consummate professional, of course -- treating the makeup artists and the stylists with deference. And he was so generous with his own team -- men who helped build the sets and get his cameras ready, no doubt photographers themselves -- asking them for their feedback on the images as they were immediately uploaded onto laptops in the room, and even asking them for their suggestions on the lenses he should use (as if he didn't already know which ones he was planning on using). He was photographer and coach and artist and teacher and leader all wrapped up in one, and my 15 minutes in front of his camera ended far too soon. I had hoped that I would like him in person, of course -- I've admired him for so long, after all -- but I never imagined how much I would end up really adoring him. I've become an even huger superfan, if that was even possible.
For this particular campaign, Mr. Testino traveled all over the world to photograph 30 women: first in LA, before moving on to London, and then finally to India. The results were shown last Thursday at a gallery in New York City, shown above, for members of the foreign press. Along with 8 other speakers (including the amazing women behind the groundbreaking and provocative website StyleLikeU; Daphne Selfe, Britain's oldest professional supermodel; not to mention the inimitable Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, to name just a few), we spoke to these international journalists about our own definitions of what it means to be beautiful, before I headed off to see the exhibit myself. Only one of the other women who was photographed for the exhibit -- the gorgeous Megan of Body Posi Panda -- was in attendance, and after Mr. Testino spoke to the crowd, we pushed our way through to thank him.
As we approached, he caught our eye, and his eyes lit up with recognition (but I suppose that Megan's rainbow-coloured hair and my big afro are probably easy to remember). He grinned big and greeted us.
"It's so good to see you!" he gushed.
"We're thrilled to be here," we gushed back. And then I said, "We won't keep you -- your fans await -- but we just wanted to thank you, and tell you how honoured we are to have been photographed by you."
"Oh, you're so welcome," he enthused. "Do you like the pictures?" as if he was just some random person who grabbed one of our cameraphones to take the shots.
"Absolutely," we grinned. "This whole experience is incredible."
And then he looked at Megan. "You still have your colour," he said, looking approvingly at her hair.
"Are you kidding?" she laughed. "Now that you've photographed it, I'm never getting rid of it!"
I know exactly how she feels.
Anyway, friends, without further ado, here's the official photograph he took of me for the campaign:
And click here or the image below to watch the behind-the-scenes footage of all three photo shoots.
I'm beyond grateful to Dove, Mr. Testino, his team, the stylists, the makeup artists and all of the amazing people I was honoured to meet as a part of this entire 2-month-long adventure. This experience was easily one of the biggest highlights of my life, and speaking with the other women last week at the press event was so inspiring for me, that I find myself thinking about their words over and over again, and how I can incorporate their wisdom into my life. I'm sure I'll be sharing their words and ideas here from time to time in the months to come.
But, man, what a wonderful ride. Such an honour.