Mario Testino / Taschen
Let me start with a confession: I love Brazil. I know parts of the Northeast, and I know parts of the South yet I've never been to Rio. Nevertheless, I've approached this book with the intention to like it. And I did because I thought the youngsters portrayed beautiful. However, I do not think that it is a book about Rio, it is about a fashion photographer's obsession with young bodies. Moreover, I totally disagree with what the Brazilian poet and composer Caetano Veloso says about this work: "What makes Mario Testino's photographs stand out from those of other inspired visitors is that Mario captures the city's essential inner being." Since I've never been to Rio, and since I'm not even Brazilian, how dare I disagree with such a well-known Brazilian native?, you might rightfully ask. Well, have a look at the book, I'd say. It primarily shows lots of well-built young men and women, either nude or semi-nude. Don't get me wrong, they are all a pleasure to look at but that these photographs should show, again in the words of Caetano Veloso, "a complex, rich and multilayered love, overflowing with intimacy and the lucidity of dreams brought to life" seems to me, well, a bit of a stretch.
The fact that not only Caetano Veloso ("Not only does Mario have Rio inbedded in his own name") but also the TV-presenter Regina Casé ("The moment MaRIO sets foot in RIO, as soon as he steps out of the airport. jet-lagged or not, he becomes one of us") stress that Mario Testino, who hails from Peru, is at heart a Carioca (how the ones living in Rio are called) still does not make this tome one about Rio - it is quite simply about Testino's fascination with young and beautiful bodies. To be fair: there are also a few shots of the city to be found in this book.
But isn't Testino's Rio what Rio is all about? Sex and lust? If we were to believe Regina Casé, it indeed is: "Horniness doesn't languish at the bottom of the ocean but flows freely over RIO." And over MaRIO, one feels like adding.
Mario Testino / Taschen
The most enjoyable text in this book is by Gisele Bündchen, who is from Horizontina, a small town of about 18,000 in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and who writes: "Rio existed in my head long before I ever went there. Soap operas are huge in Brazil, and Rio is where they are made. When I was young my absolute favorite TV show was called Xuxa. I loved the show's heroine of the same name so much that I named my dog after her ... For me Rio was like the stage set kind of place where soap operas were made, where Xuxa lived and where healthy people ran on the beach every day and drank coconut water. It's this dream-like place, only you can go there for real and it doesn't disappoint ... Mario is brilliant at capturing Rio; the sensuality of its people and their happiness in their bodies - the fact that they are at ease with their sexuality, and not afraid to reveal everything about themselves. I don't just mean in terms of wearing few clothes, though that too, but more the way they are authentic and upfront about who they are. I think Mario is like that himself, and that's one reason why he is so great at capturing the people of Rio."
The people of Rio? That must be a city exclusively populated by young folk for none of the people photographed looks more than 22. I truly hope Mario Testino's phantasies can be found in the real Rio de Janeiro that I hope I will one day be visiting.
Rio de Janeiro
Taschen 2009, Cologne