A discussion about the photography of Italian-born, New York-based photographer and director Mario Sorrenti is, in many ways, opening a book on popular culture and landing on the chapter about modern-day fashion photography.
Born in the coastal town of Naples in Italy to father Francesca Sorrenti (fashion photographer and creative director), Mario, at the tender age of 10, moved to New York City; the city would come to embrace Mario, as he would come to call it home.
Exhibiting globally (New York City, Paris, London, and Monaco), Sorrenti’s deeply intimate photographs comprising nude spreads, celebratory portraits and musical ventures have earmarked photography’s place in popular culture for over 25 years.
Looking back near three decades, his photographic timeline launches in the 1990s—A time when scrunchies were in, Tribe was ‘kicking it’ in NYC, photography’s ‘digital birth’ was due, and film classics like Pulp Fiction, Kids and The Big Lebowski were making their mark in motion picture and pop culture history. The 1990s were an intense decade, an era dominated by commanding creatives including Mario Sorrenti.
Sorrenti’s ’90s entrée into photography was full-on, experimental and inclusive: his fierce creativity like a rapid, bursting into form and gathering momentum as it flowed from Polaroid to painting, drawings to diary-making. A look at these early years reveals an eighteen-year-old Sorrenti nurture his love for photography by obsessively shooting those around him. Drinking up inspiration in films, art books and museums, young Sorrenti gave his creativity room to grow at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where he studied sculpture and painting.
But it was while working in London two years later, in 1992, when his shoot of then-girlfriend Kate Moss for The FACE saw him attribute more professional permanence to his photographic love affair. Next came the famous Calvin Klein “Obsession” campaign featuring a naked Moss in ’93 – the shoot served as a springboard to his (and Moss’) professional career, cementing his name in fashion history.
Be it New York, London, or Europe, Mario – albeit his backdrop – captures common ground in the human element. And in this tale where global fashion capitals (NYLON, Paris) energise ideas and cast out new trends, we find our protagonist, Mario Sorrenti, on (and behind) scene to capture the new face of fashion. But his work goes beyond pure aesthetics and seasonal trends. After all, it isn’t the cities breathing out new ideas in isolation, it’s the people; even more so, the co-existing relationships.
When telling a story about Mario Sorrenti, there are various social and cultural interchanges to discover along the way: Italy-NYC; NYC-London; film-photography; editorial-commercial; fashion-culture; audience-artist; artist-subject; boy-meets-girl…Each exchange a nod to the power of collaboration, each picture a salute to the power of love.
Love, beauty, and sexy are notions many might associate to Sorrenti’s photography; for others it might be pain, freedom and hope. Personally, I sense hints of all these – and many more. And this is the wonderful thing about exploring creatives like Sorrenti, whose imagery is a democratic celebration of beauty which, like art, carries depth and personality.
The photographic process for Sorrenti is all about developing relationships, building trust with his subjects. Whether it’s men or women, naked or clothed, ex-lovers now-friends or red-carpet stars, he captures personalities with confidence and grace.
His connection with his subjects is almost palpable, and adds to what makes his imagery so distinctively Sorrenti. Contributing stylistic notes are refined, emotion-heavy compositions (subject’s face oft filling the frame), dramatic lighting, and bold use of colour, or the absence thereof.
While well-known for his commanding back and white portraits and nudes, so too is Mario revered for his spirited, colour-rich fashion editorials which visually indulge the viewer with their flamboyant palette.
For instance, with “Document 3” (the Documental Journal shoot of models Luna Bijl and Ali Michael) we see textured, layered compositions come to life in crimson red and coral blue, in fuchsia pink and ripe orange. These springtime visual narratives – floral and bright – are, however, rather sinister in nature: visual references include a model’s shattered reflection in a broken mirror; and a lively room hoarding a lifeless model. These feel-goods take a quick turn into a state of floral frenzy, and I can’t stop staring!
Currently signed exclusively with agency Art Partner, Mario’s multi-textured photographic portfolio showcases a powerful mix of editorial (shooting for big names like Vogue, DAZED, i-D, W Magazine, Jil Sander and Harper’s Bazaar), and commercial (like Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Lancôme, Chanel, Tom Ford, and Yves Saint Laurent).
Mario Sorrenti’s also brought out a number of books. With Draw Blood for Proof (2013), his scrapbook of prints, Polaroid, contact sheets and snaps, Mario invites the public on a visual journey into his private and public life.
Another title is his 2018 monograph, entitled Kate, which offers the viewer a look at intimate, newly published photos of his former girlfriend and fashion muse, Kate Moss.
Music being another muse and contemporaneous to his early fashion photography are projects including the photography for rock band Del Amitri’s Twisted album (1995), and, in the same year, and on permanent display in London’s National Portrait Gallery, his digital colour print of English singer-songwriter Polly Jean Harvey, better known as P.J. Harvey.
From music to motion picture legends, Sorrenti’s subjects include, to name just a few, film legend, director Jean-Luc Godard, the pioneering 1930s fashion photographer Richard Avedon (whom Sorrenti modelled for), actress Julianne Moore, REM frontman Michael Stipe, and Ukrainian-born actress, supermodel, fashion designer, singer and former girlfriend Milla Jovovich.
With recent work including photography and a short film from his 2018 road-trip across Japan (Jil Sander S/S 2019); shoots for fashion faves (DAZED Spring 2019); and an exhibition (“Mario Sorrenti: Kate”) at the Dallas Contemporary in April – Mario Sorrenti is showing no signs of slowing down.
Alexis Primous by Mario Sorrenti for W Magazine, September 2015