In 2019, before the pandemic transformed all massive celebrations, Mario Testino photographed the Kumbh Mela, a festival where Hindu believers seek atonement. A purifying experience in which the elements of devotion and belonging are as tangible as any part of the material world.
Testino magnifies the occasion by photographing those at the centre of the pilgrimage: the sadhus. There are many instances in which devotion takes a physical form, however, few carry the cultural significance and the extremeness of the sadhus, men committed to an ascetic life who become the embodiment of belief. Not only material possessions have been forgotten in complete renunciation, but the body and its needs are left behind in the quest for ultimate enlightenment. Faith possesses everything, replacing identity itself.
In Holy Men, an introduction to Mario Testino’s most personal body of work to date, A Beautiful World, we met the sadhus as only Testino would present them: in front of a grey background, in full detail and portrayed as individuals despite being part of something greater. The holy men outside of the holy land, vibrant with the signs of enlightenment.