PRINT April 1996


AT 24, New York-based Mario Sorrenti is not only one of the youngest but the most controversial of the latest crop of fashion photographers. Though top magazines have called on him regularly since his 1991 debut in The Face, and Calvin Klein picked him to photograph the 1992 Obsession campaign, only his most conformist images are typically published. The often unflinchingly sexual, even raw psychic charge that infuses his precisely composed photographs can sometimes make fashion editors uneasy. But Sorrenti, conscious that the look he helped launch—a combination of the stylized vérité of Bruce Weber’s photography and the spontaneous intimacy of the snapshot—has already become something of a convention, continues to push the boundaries of the genre.

When Sorrenti entered the fashion world, it was on the other side of the lens. As a model, he appeared in numerous ads, including a Levi’s spread, but he never abandoned his first passion—taking pictures. He photographed model friends at work—changing backstage, leaving a show—or just hanging out, and then carefully arranged these stark, intimate views of soon-to-be-famous faces (Kate Moss, Nadja Auermann) into bound journals. When the 20-year-old Sorrenti showed these photographic diaries to The Face’s art director Phil Bicker, it led to a spread for the magazine with Camilla Nickerson, then a freelance stylist, now fashion editor at Vogue. Within a few months, his work was popping up everywhere, and in 1992 he landed a contract with Harper’s Bazaar. But Sorrenti, whose earliest photographs featured homeboys, rappers, and teenage friends, remains committed to the world beyond the catwalk. Between shows he plugs back into the street and alternative rock culture that originally inspired him, documenting his seemingly endless road trips across America with his friends—lounging in roadside motel rooms, getting tattooed at Lollapalooza, rummaging, half-dressed, through the chaos of the morning after.

Lately, his signature black and white shots have given way to color photographs, which, like the work of Nan Goldin and Mark Morrisroe, map the libidinal economy of the quotidian. In these, color is as heavily worked as it would be in a painting—take, for example, the Francis Bacon-inspired series that appeared in the January ’96 issue of W. For Artforum, Sorrenti chose to work with Bernadette Corporation, a group of fashion designers who operate out of a Bowery studio in New York. Their last collection mixed their own designs—made of supple, mass-produced fabrics in chestnut, gray, and beige tones but inspired by the sexy, combative universe of Japanese cartoons—with clothing purchased at thrift stores. Drawn to American “white trash” culture and cheap, glitzy clothing that looks like it came straight out of a blaxploitation flick, Bernadette Corporation recycles and humorously combines the trends of past decades: wide-lapelled, animal-print satin shirts, torn T-shirts, lace tops, hyperminis, and the omnipresent warm-up suit. This rereading of fashion’s detritus parallels Sorrenti’s fascination with the eclectic self-stylings of post-slacker youth culture. The model in the photograph shown here is an East Village denizen, whom Sorrenti met when she delivered food to a shoot. Wearing a black tank top designed by Bernadette, her body outlined against a saturated teal background, fist in mouth, she reflects the visceral sexuality and eruption of the real that has become Sorrenti’s trademark.

Olivier Zahm is an editor of Purple Prose and a frequent contributor to Artforum.

Translated from the French by Sheila Glaser.