Actor Danny Huston surveyed celebrity photographer Mario Testino’s naked, and in some cases aroused, models, all hard nipples and perfect buttocks, and pronounced them “exquisite in every sense of the word.”
“I suppose they communicate beautiful decadence,” Huston told me at the Peruvian shutterbug’s launch party Saturday night for a retrospective of 22 photographs at the Prism Gallery in West Hollywood, including a belly button–down portrait of a tight-underpantsed dude, apparently very enthusiastic about something. “Sumptuous,” Huston continued, pointing out the image of a richly crimson carriage interior. “Look at the red! And dreamy. And also a fantasy of sorts—something which takes you into a place where your imagination usually goes, rather than the photographic evidence. Not a bad metaphor for Oscar week!”
As the gallery filled up with wasp-waisted fashionistas and the odd showbiz veteran like long-ago Oscar winner Marisa Tomei—and, inevitably, Kim Kardashian, pregnant with Kanye West’s baby, trailed by a frightening swarm of paparazzi—Huston recalled that his late father, legendary director John Huston, once teased Humphrey Bogart about the latter’s sour disdain for the Academy Awards.
“Bogie thought they were so silly, and that there was a vulgarity to them—and then when Bogie won his first Oscar, my father said he was ‘inordinately proud,’” Huston told me. Swirling around him were reckless souls tanking up on champagne flutes of Portón, a sweet and lethal Peruvian novelty beverage emitting clouds of smoke—a dry-ice-created special effect. “I was nominated for the Golden Globes this year”—for his portrayal of a gangster in Magic City, a television series on the Starz network—“and it was one of my first nominations, and all that really mattered to me was that I was honored to be nominated,” Huston said. “And I truly meant it—until I didn’t win it.”
Testino, who was holding court in front of a huge soft-focus image of a young couple having simulated sex in front of a Coke machine, told me he’s rooting for his frequent photo subject Anne Hathaway, who’s up for best supporting actress for her role as Fantine, the doomed prostitute in Les Misérables.
“She’s a great girl—I’ve photographed her a lot,” Testino said. “I think she will have a go of it.”
As for the ingenious product placement in the photograph behind him, “Coca-Cola has been a part of all of our lives,” he said. When I said I drink only the diet version, Testino scolded, “But Diet Coke is not as good as the real stuff. I think it is better to have a few of the real stuff than lots of the not-so-good stuff.” While there was no particular narrative to the exhibition, “there’s an element here of the photographs themselves that has to do with our own desires,” Testino explained, agreeing that a golden statuette surely falls into that category.
In due course, a ponytailed Kim Kardashian arrived in black leather, and immediately inspired a scene worthy of The Day of the Locust. The surprisingly diminutive reality-show star and discount-fashion muse looked overwhelmed yet determined amid a carnivorous crowd of curiosity seekers. As she and two handlers pushed their way up a staircase to the second floor of the exhibition, where Testino had relocated, Kardashian was a human comet trailing a gaseous tail of camera flashes.
At length, she reached Testino, who asked her if she would like one of the smoking novelty drinks. Begging off, she pointed to her belly.
“I love Kanye—I met him at a fashion show,” Testino could be heard cooing before the ambient party-noise washed over them.
Has Kim sat for Mario? I asked.
“No, I haven’t,” she answered.
“Not yet,” Mario chimed in.
Kim confided that she is five months along.
You’re brave to be venturing into this scene in your condition, I noted.
“Oh, it’s fine,” she replied.
Is she past the tough part of the pregnancy?
“It isn’t tough for me,” Kim parried.
After this fascinating exchange, one of Kim’s handlers interposed herself and ended the conversation before it could achieve Algonquin Round Table quality. A skinny blonde lady who looked to be modeling a floor-length pink nightgown, accented by an ingeniously soiled fake fur, tried to interest Kim in some fashion fundraiser or other. Kim nodded blankly. The nice thing is that Kim comported herself like a regal old-Hollywood star, and the rest of the world was more than eager to go along with this happy delusion.
Digitial-effects artist and actor Masi Oka, who plays a coroner on CBS’s resurrection of Hawaii Five-O but perhaps is best known for playing Hiro Nakamura on the once popular NBC series Heroes, stopped by Testino’s opening on the way to a private party. “It’s a little unreal—the hubbub around this one week,” Oka told me as he edged out the door. “Next week it will be a little bit silent. First it’s celebrating the year, and then you get back to work.”