ARTICLE SARAH CRISTOBAL
PHOTOGRAPHY MARIO SORRENTI
IN HIS NEW TOME, DRAW BLOOD FOR PROOF, ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHER MARIO SORRENTI LETS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL IMAGERY PROVIDE AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT HIS PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE. HERE, HE SITS DOWN WITH HIS FRIEND AND PUBLISHER PASCAL DANGIN TO DISCUSS THIS INTIMATE SELF-PORTRAIT
Back in 2004, Mario Sorrenti staged one of his first exhibitions at New York’s Roth Horowitz Gallery. The work on display, Draw Blood for Proof, predominantly consisted of Polaroids arranged in a giant collage format. It was a re-creation of the conversation he started with himself on the wall of his Lower East Side loft, in which he documented his life in pictures—professional, private, and interesting moments. When the exhibition was over, and just before it was dismantled, Sorrenti gave the project new life by photographing it again. He recently unearthed those snapshots, and with the help of creative director and steidldangin publisher Pascal Dangin has reanimated their subject matter once again, in the form of a fabulous book, due out this summer.
It’s a beautiful book. Congratulations.
Pascal Dangin It’s great to have finally arrived at this point. Mario had this book idea a long time.
Mario Sorrenti Almost ten years.
PD My experience with photographers is that a book is a milestone. As a publisher I want people to understand who Mario Sorrenti is. This body of work will engage people. In today’s world of photography and consumerism, this book is really an inside view. He has his own life and his own world and experience. I was at the show, it’s obviously very emotional to see all of those private personal pictures. Love, sex, commercials, fun, work—everything is here. And then suddenly for him to decide to rephotograph, not as a document, but as an image of an image, that’s what really took me in. It’s not a representation of the show. I think the photographs, the way they are framed and the way we decided to show them, they are 8 by 10...it may look funny, but I love it.
MS This is true to the negative of the format it was shot in.
PD Each spread is a new photograph.
MS We wanted it to be as close as we could get to the size of a Polaroid.
PD It’s a scaled-down version of the wall. We looked at a lot of ways to lay out this book and suddenly this one-to-one correlation became so apparent. You can spend hours and hours on this book and see something new every time. It’s extremely entertaining.
MS The way it started…I must have been 22 or 23 and I was living in a small loft on Chrystie Street that had a long, white wall, and I wanted to make a conversation with myself all the way across it. Then I moved into a bigger space with a giant wall and I took all of my photographs and spread them across there. It just grew and grew, and one day the idea that came was that it would be exciting to actually re-create that wall in a work format.
PD You would need to buy two books if you want to re-create that wall. [laughs]
MS The way I work is that things keep changing and transforming and then have a life of their own. Someone asked me if I wanted to do an exhibition, and I transplanted that wall into the gallery. And then when the show was over I thought, This is the opportunity to actually photograph what is here. I started taking the Polaroids, and I realized, Oh my God, these are new pictures on their own! What I loved about it was that everything was re-cropped and reframed. From the beginning I realized it was about the relationships, image to image. Weird subconscious things started to happen. My grandmother’s foot next to something I took for fashion. My brother’s picture ended up next to a picture of a close friend from the neighborhood. All of these relationships started happening and again it was a conversation.
Was this organized chronologically or did it all just kind of happen?
MS No, we just laid it all out on the floor so we could see it and put it up. It just followed a natural rhythm of color and graphics. It got all confused, which was really interesting.
It’s a story.
MS But that’s the way it works in my life. I draw my inspiration from everything from my kids to fashion to art, and it affects each other and you lose track of time. I don’t only do fashion. It all became important. A picture of my brother next to a fashion picture next to something I did for a portfolio next to a picture of me as a child. It became important on every level, the photographs, the memories. It’s kind of an autobiography. And then the Polaroids sat in a box for another six or seven years. Then Pascal came to me and said, “I want to do a couple of books for you,” and this was sitting on my shelf. It seemed the appropriate thing to start with, because it explains my first 10 years as a photographer and the birth of who I am today. And if you look at the pictures I am taking today and you put them all together, you can see that it comes from here, but is also very different. This is young and raw. It’s experimenting.
PD People today know Mario for being this cool, edgy photographer, but it’s commercial, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we also want to talk about the artist himself. So remove all the labels, and remove the marketing. It becomes just great pictures. And I think that’s going to go a long way in today’s fashion photography.
There are no captions, so the images are speaking for themselves.
PD Well, we also have a text written by Jim Lewis. He came to mind as soon as we started this book. I put the two of them together. I didn’t want a scholar of photography. I’ll always put text, but this book doesn’t really need it. The text is just one page, one paragraph. No break, just a long string of words. I think it’s very powerful.
MS It’s sort of like free association, and in a way that’s the same idea as the book.
PD It doesn’t explain the photographs. He put in words what Mario did in photographs. It was great. We are very excited.
MS The way that I used to work…like this girl, Shannon Plumb, she came to deliver food to my apartment one day and I thought, Wow this girl is really interesting. I asked if I could take a photo of her and I started photographing her for three years, five years. We thought about what we could do to push the envelope for each other. And then she started to do her own artwork and film herself, and now she has these great films and she is this amazing artist. My relationships with the people I photographed in this book are extremely personal, from pictures of my sister to Shannon.
PD It’s a fantastic book. People are going to be very surprised. There are a lot of layers.
Do you feel exposed at all? The exhibit was temporary, but this is permanent.
PD Well, he is an exhibitionist.
MS I’m completely exposed. I know there are going to be people that are horrified and people that are going to like it. I think it’s kind of a relief in a way to be able to tell the truth.
PD I think it’s very courageous to actually get it out there.
MS If you think about what photography has become today, with retouching and Photoshop, this is almost a document of an era before that. These are all Polaroids, unretouched. They are all handmade prints.
PD There was a desire to preserve. If you had precise photography, re-creating images, that would have been a big mistake. We could have made a pamphlet or catalog or something, but it would have never been a book that way.
It would have lost the sentiment.
PD It’s also about not trying to say anything. It’s just what it is.
MS [points to a photograph] That’s Doctor Kevorkian. I went to Detroit to photograph him for George magazine before he went to jail. It was so intense. I will never forget this—I had him in the corner of a room and I was looking down into my Hasselblad, shooting him, and he was just staring into the camera and I was having this weird high or hallucination. It was so intense, and he looks at me and he goes, “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?” And he looked like this skeleton to me.
PD What else?
MS Polaroids are really important for me and for some of my friends. We were taking photographs with them all the time. Something about the colors we found really inspiring. They had this quality we were always trying to replicate in our photographs. We were always like, Look, I want this green or this blue in my print. We would search out different cameras and films we could use in the Polaroid—making it hot, making it cold, and pulling it out early. So we amassed such a large collection, and I would keep everything. So without even thinking about it, it all came together.
PD To me they are really like paintings, and people forget that, especially in an Instagram world.
Mario, you are a big Instagrammer.
PD He can’t help himself.
MS It’s just another way of reaching people with your ideas.
PD I had done a book like this before, but the size was interesting for this one. The blood became even more powerful, another way of saying “storybook.”
MS To me, “draw blood for proof,” it’s literal, it’s what’s running through my veins. It’s who I am in a very disorganized way. In a sense, it’s throwing it all out there randomly and seeing where all the pieces land. It was ten years, give or take. There are a lot of relationships and friendships and family and losses, deaths. But also there’s a lot of getting up in the morning and going to work and taking pictures as a professional.
PD Today we are fighting for time all the time. We should do drugs to just realize what it is! But sometimes you just need that catalytic process. You need to put that milestone in your life, to revise how it is. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, it’s nostalgic. We didn’t want to make a book that is nostalgic, this isn’t that. We didn’t want white frames, that becomes memories. But it’s important to recontemplate moments. Let’s work harder and harder to preserve this way of living and photography and our profession. You have to force yourself.
Courtesy steidldangin Publishers