Mario Sorrenti
Photo by Christian Brylle

Mario Sorrenti: “There has to be intimacy”

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Short Profile

Name: Mario Sorrenti
DOB: 24 October 1971
Place of birth: Naples, Italy
Occupation: Photographer

Mario Sorrenti's new book, Kate, is out now via Phaidon.

Mr. Sorrenti, what does love look like in a photograph?

(Laughs) Well, when I think about the photos I took of Kate Moss when we were dating in the 1990s, we were very young, and I loved her very much. It was a very important time in my life, I was 19 years old and in love and on my own for the first time, away from home, building my own life… What does that look like in a photo? I don’t know, I guess you just have to look at the photos and see if you see it or you don’t.

Apparently you consider intimacy to be the most vital ingredient for your work.  

Absolutely. I think that there has to be a level of intimacy in order to give space to emotions, to create and to build trust. In my photographs, that’s something very important. It’s the quietness, the stillness, and the moment where it seems like all barriers are being broken, your subject is letting their guard down, the trust is 100%... And you’re also letting your own guards down, ones that you might build up for your own self. Something is discovered.

“I’m an idealist, I always think of a utopian world.”

Has your idea of intimacy evolved over the years?

My personal idea of intimacy has always been the same, I think. I’m an idealist, I always think of a utopian world. That’s something that I got from my father and my mother, they were both artists, and it was a loving and open environment — that’s something that I try to bring into my own life and into my professional and working relationships. Sometimes your objective is something very materialistic. Like, “Okay, my focus is this shoe,” so I can’t say that I have the same level of intimacy at that point. I’ve done campaigns that are very much about serving the client and then I’ve also done campaigns where the client has said to me, “We want you to be totally free.”

Has it taken you a long time to build that kind of trust with your clients?

I mean… No. It hasn’t. I’ve always had a very good relationship with all of the people that I’ve photographed. I’m not an aggressive person, that’s just the way I am. I like to work with people that want to work with me. I believe that when you’re photographing somebody or creating something, it’s a collaboration. And that relationship, that trust, that kindness, that respect, that empathy — that’s what I try and bring to the photographs. That’s what I believe my pictures are about. I’m materializing a vision that is in my imagination and in my soul and in my ideals, you know? So for example, the pictures of Kate also represent a part of me… We were discovering ourselves.

Do you think that innocence was important to the success of the shoot?

Yeah, for sure. That’s the innocence that comes through in the photographs. I think there was an innocence on her part and an innocence on my part as a photographer. I get quite bored of doing the same thing all the time. I like to change and experiment. And I think where photography is concerned, because these photos were experimental, that’s innocence for me.

You were delving into something new.

Right, I was trying something out. I think my photographic career has been one of growing, learning, experimenting and trying different things. At first I was mainly shooting black and white, I never really knew much about color photography, but after a few years after that, I started experimenting with color. That was a big journey for me! I was trying out collaborations with different artists and things like that… It’s always a progression, it’s about challenging the idea of what photography is. Around the time of the Obsession campaign, it was a very exhausting time so I had to start slowing it down a little bit in order to do what I wanted to do, instead of just reacting to what was happening.

What do you mean?

Well, things were happening very, very quickly! Both mine and Kate’s career were just taking off. Thank God I was young because it was almost like being an athlete, running around, constantly flying all over the place, meeting new people, shooting for Calvin, I had just gotten a contract for Harper’s Bazaar. It took its toll because when fashion was into something or someone, stuff happened fast!

And that’s perhaps even more true today.

Of course, and while those kinds of opportunities are definitely there for young photographers, fashion photography has gotten very expensive. It was always expensive but it’s become a lot bigger, a lot more stressful. I do think that this is a great time for photography, there’s a lot of really great young talents coming out, taking pictures, and creating special, new things.

“I wouldn’t say my pictures are nostalgic but I think that they all have an emotion that maybe takes you away from the present.”

Is that how you look back on those photos; as young talent working to create something new and special?

It’s funny, looking back on them, some pictures I actually don’t even remember! Some that were a little more abstract and you know, I think it’s incredible how our memories can really play tricks on us… That shoot for Calvin Klein was about 25 years ago. A lot of it, of course, it brought back memories but some of it was like, “Oh, what was that?” But to be honest, that was the exciting thing about using these images in the book, Kate, because I was able to go back and look at the photos with an objective eye.

It helped you to distance yourself?

Exactly, I made decisions based on what I thought was good from a photographic point of view and less from an emotional memory… At the same time, I wouldn’t say my pictures are nostalgic but I think that they all have an emotion that maybe takes you away from the present. They’re not just documentations, they’re definitely creations! They’re feelings and ideas that are edited and set up and that have a lot to do with my ideals. For me, they take me away from the present into a world where things are perfect for me.

Is that how you hope people feel when they look at your photos?

No — you know what? I’ve actually let go of that idea. What I’ve realized through the years is that everybody sees something different in the picture. They put themselves in the photograph and everybody sees what they want to see, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I think that’s a great thing, actually.