Mario Testino was a friend of ours. He had a studio in an abandoned hospital on Soho Square. Scott Crolla, Georgina Godley… and others were frequent guests. My boy friend in 1981 was Mario’s long time friend and collaborator Patrick Kinmonth.
Patrick lived in a tiny apartment in Holland Park, deliberately disheveled, dusty yet filled with beautiful object. The place was brutally cold in the winter and a furnace in the summer. Patrick, according to the artist Craigie Aitchison dobbed me in to the police when they were looking for me to ask questions about my credit card and why I hadn’t paid the bill. It was Patrick who lent me money to buy my Peter Doig and it was Patrick who encouraged me to make art. He was a vicious snob, exquisitely beautiful and at that time worked for Vogue magazine. He amused us all by mimicking Mario’s Peruvian lilt. Patrick is a deft impersonator. The problem with Patrick? Nothing ever came of his own talent. He lives with the painfully shy food photographer Tessa Traeger in the West Country. He designs opera sets for out-of-the-way operas but never became the great anything everyone thought he might become.
The last time I saw Mario and Patrick we were in LA at The Chateau Marmont. I was having dinner in the garden they were having a party in the lounge with a bunch of gorgeous boy/men models. I sat beside Patrick for a moment but I didn’t stay long. He scolded me. I made amends for some indiscretion and I left. Mario looked at me disdainfully. Patrick enjoys being on Mario’s winning team. He wrote the forward to Mario’s book and he styles the most interesting shoots. Neither of them wanted me hanging around. You’ve seen pictures of young girls on a yacht wearing bikinis, oggled by old men… this was Mario’s gay equivalent. I’d already ruined things by talking to him and Patrick, bathed in Mario’s reflected glory, wanted me gone. He looked down his aquiline nose and told me I could have made so much more of myself. Yeah, I thought… if you hadn’t worked with the establishment to destroy me. I probably could.
You know why old men put young girls on yachts? You’d think… so the girls can’t escape. No, it’s so their old men friends can’t join the party. I returned to my dinner in the garden. Soon I saw Mario, Peter Pan like… screaming and laughing down the stairs with his crew. Patrick lagging behind like a heavy train on an old dress.
I’ve never blogged about Mario. Now, within the context of the salacious revelations and accusations leading to his spectacular firing from the Conde Nast creative family I revisit my association with him. Let me say immediately, I didn’t know anything untoward was happening. I had never heard anything. The towel series he shot with models were obviously designed to get the model naked and to legitimize Mario’s pervy intentions but I never heard from models who worked with him they felt uncomfortable.
Many of those same models who worked with Mario were not so discreet about their working relationship with Bruce Weber. For over a decade or more I heard story after story from young men who had worked with Bruce and the discomfort they felt being ‘relaxed’ with his hands on their bodies, the ‘breathing exercise’ or asked to take off their shorts when they were alone with Bruce. I heard again and again about the notorious ‘private archive’ for which Bruce said he wanted their naked picture. I heard how he tantalized young men with lucrative campaigns and the promise of a life beyond their wildest dreams. I heard how he set models against each other, how within minutes of the private naked shots… would change his mind about the campaign promise he’d made, playing with them, manipulating them.
Yet, it seems, many models were perfectly happy to have their bodies used by Bruce. Yesterday I spoke to a male super model I know in NYC. Last year, after a few drinks, he described in detail how Bruce molested him, removed his underwear and had taken pictures of him naked. I asked if he was willing to come forward, speak publicly. He told me I should be ashamed of myself for suggesting he told tales on Bruce. Thus we understand how Bruce, inspiring loyalty in others, groomed them for sexual molestation.
I’ve had my run ins with Bruce over the years. I asked him to take the Dorian Gray portrait. He curtly suggested that I wasn’t the sort of person he could do business with. Oh… how the tables have turned.
Sunday. I had a late lunch in Hackney with a young gay artist. We talked about Mario and Bruce. He asked the difference between flirtation and harassment. He was worried his flirtation might be misconstrued. How would he know? Of course, one asks ones self: why doesn’t he know? He’s a bright lad but his white male privilege is so ingrained he cannot differentiate between the two. He asked if the men now making the complaints were somehow complicit. Many gay men make excuses for Bruce and Mario habitually devaluing our lives by suggesting the men who agree to work or consort with us are somehow suspect, complicit. We remain baffled by the notion of consent. They knew what they were getting themselves into.
“Consent, that’s for straight people? Women? Isn’t it?” He looks confused.
We talk about the abuse of power between men (beyond top and bottom although that too) and how our anti social behaviour and lack of morality has been largely ignored by heterosexual society firstly before equality, because straight people found it distasteful and didn’t really care. Then, after equality straight people were too embarrassed or confused to question how we lived in case they were accused of homophobia or insensitivity. Recent gay celebrity scandals have shocked many of our straight allies, realizing they don’t know anything much about their gay friends at all. Like rats we live discreet and cautious lives just a few feet from theirs, scurrying from one assignation to another.
We’ve done a great job blending in. For many years the only evidence we existed was when the police arrested, tried and sent us to jail for being gay. Cottaging. Tricking. Dressing up. Without occasional mention in the newspapers our gay lives would remain completely invisible. I broke the law simply by being alive and sexually active. Straight acting wasn’t a fetish, it was strategic and could save you from a beating or death. Ironically, this parallel life served many of us very well. As a young British gay man I enjoyed social mobility, sexual freedom and access to extraordinary financial opportunities my straight peers could only dream of. Yet, I paid the price for all of those benefits by surrendering my moral imperative.
Paris Hilton is maligned in the press for saying gay men on gay hook up apps are ‘disgusting’. Which, after being sent 50 or so asshole pics this week… one might be inclined to agree.
With equality comes responsibility. Some fought hard to enjoy marriage equality. We fought hard in the UK to have homophobic laws like section 28 overturned. In the UK these laws were ratified in Parliament and are hard to revoke. We are tentatively exploring a new moral landscape. Morals defined by heterosexuals, most gay men are unprepared for these changes and how this shift toward ‘normalcy’ may affect our lives. Simply, our lifestyle compared with that of the average heterosexual may not bear scrutiny post Weinstein and Mario, Bryan, Bruce and Kevin may just be the very tip of the iceberg.
Entitled, affluent gay white men are especially morally impoverished. Many still live secret, compartmentalized and shameful lives blighted by addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. To many straight people we may seem carefree, highly entertaining, a cause to celebrate ‘gay pride’ and drink rainbow cocktails… but, on our own with our second screens we indulge less salubrious, secret lives using hook up apps as the portal, through which many enter a dark and disgusting world of chem sex, lies, cheating and despair.
They say, everyone lies on-line. We live in lying times. Acceptable lies are now morally ring fenced. The lies most gay men tell before they come out are perfectly… acceptable. A habit we are loathed to break. Most gay men are addicted to lying. Only yesterday I met a closeted 25-year-old gay man. I asked him why he was in the closet? He described the same feelings of shame and despair I felt nearly 40 years ago. Some things never seem to change… however much I am told, ‘it doesn’t matter, nobody cares’. I explained to him why he needs to come out of the closet. He needs to stop lying. The more he lies the less respect he will have for the truth. As I mentioned in my previous blog gay men get into nasty habits around the truth and the sooner we embrace the truth the less damage is done to our morality and our integrity.
The last time I saw Mario he was skipping like a teenager down the stairs at The Chateau Marmont surrounded by beautiful teens. Like Peter Pan, a 60-year-old man unable to face the truth about his failing body and his failing ability to make good decisions. He could not stop himself grabbing them by the pussy. He is the same as Trump. Made of the same stuff. Gripped by power, fame and entitlement he understood himself to be unassailable. Nothing would ever bring him down… his legacy would glitter in perpetuity. The dream maker, the fantasist, the story-teller… the liar. Conjuring a universe of beauty, Mario forsook a life of loving relationships for an abuse of power.
Anna Wintour, who I confronted publicly about her reticence to stand up to Weber, made this statement last week.
Today, allegations have been made against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, stories that have been hard to hear and heartbreaking to confront. Both are personal friends of mine who have made extraordinary contributions to Vogue and many other titles at Condé Nast over the years, and both have issued objections or denials to what has emerged. I believe strongly in the value of remorse and forgiveness, but I take the allegations very seriously, and we at Condé Nast have decided to put our working relationship with both photographers on hold for the foreseeable future.
Of course Anna Wintour is torn, it is hard to align what she hears and what she knows of her friends Mario and Bruce. She is rightfully appalled, but thankfully for her she doesn’t know the half of it… she merely glimpsed, briefly through the portal and into the dark heart of every gay man I know.