During the 90s, Mario Sorrenti began covering the walls of his New York studio with snapshots, polaroids, contact sheets and pieces of ephemera. Strung together like a thread of memories, they became a way of working for Sorrenti and offered a rare insight into his artistic process. Several years later, in 2004, these works made up a large-scale photographic installation at the Andrew Roth Gallery entitled Draw Blood for Proof. Exploring the idea of presenting private works within a public space, Sorrenti then re-photographed the gallery installation and has now released it in his new tome.
Here, in a rare interview, Sorrenti tells us why all his inspirations are now stored on a computer and why he didn’t see his early works as "being radical or sexy."
Dazed Digital: Let's start with your new book Draw Blood for Proof, which began as a personal project on the walls of your loft in New York. How did the wall start and how did it eventually evolve into the book?
Mario Sorrenti: The wall started in the early 90's. I used to shoot a lot of Polaroids back then, paste them in a diary… all the Polaroids and prints that didn't make it in the diary I would stick on the wall in my loft. After a few years the wall became very important and it had grown in size to the point that it was like a small exhibition. When people would come over they would spend a lot of time looking at all the pictures; that’s when Mary and I came up with the idea that it should be a book. At first we wanted it to be to scale where you could rip the pages out of the book and recreate the wall. In the meantime, in 2004 it became an exhibition where the images covered all the walls of the Roth Horowitz gallery. After the exhibition I photographed the walls and those images became the book.
DD: Was it interesting for you to take these very private works, which essentially document your creative process and reveal them to the public?
Mario Sorrenti: Yes, I felt the process was very important. The pictures needed to be real in order for them to be valid. I lived and breathed photography, I was completely immersed in it, it became my life and my life became part of it.
DD: Do you still have a reference wall in your studio? If so, what is it covered with at the moment?
Mario Sorrenti: I don't have a reference wall anymore… with the onset of the digital revolution and the internet, all my inspirations are now stored in a computer.
DD: In the book, the works are displayed like a thread of memories why did you choose to present them in that way?
Mario Sorrenti: From the wall in my loft, the images then were laid out on the walls of a gallery. They were positioned randomly, with no attention to a time line…. I liked that, because they were like memories, flashbacks, its sort of the way my mind works…. images all over the place.
DD: You began creating this reference wall during the 90s, what were some of the first things you put on the wall and how did they capture the tone of the decade?
Mario Sorrenti: I used to live on Christie St. on the Lower East Side and I documented a lot of the things that happened on the street from my loft window…. That was one of the first images I started with… Then it might have been a polaroid of a model I shot in the studio, to a picture of a friend or my brother… My photos were so intertwined with my life that it soon became a sort of visual diary or a conversation I was having with myself.
DD: What else was happening in your life during that early period of your career?
Mario Sorrenti: Well my career as a fashion photographer was taking off and I was just trying to keep up with it…. It was a lot of work and a lot of parties…. I guess, I was also young and trying to figure out what I wanted from life. I wanted to focus on art but the fashion kept pulling me back … There were a lot of great things going on then in music, film and art…. It was a very inspiring time. It was a time to be real, it wasn’t about how much money you made, dope cars or bling bling…. It was more about rejecting all the superficiality and getting real.
DD: Nudes have become a big part of your work. What do you find alluring about capturing the nude?
Mario Sorrenti: I love the human figure, and its anatomy… the way it can be so pure and complete in expressions.
DD: I read that your parents were both very open and you grew up around nudity, do you think that has that had a big influence on you?
Mario Sorrenti: Yes, it has definitely helped me be comfortable with nudity. My parents are both artists, and free thinkers…. they have had a huge influence on me.
DD: Do you think through the internet and advertising, the way we approach and accept the nude has changed?
Mario Sorrenti: I don't know but something has definitely changed the way we perceive nudity, but not only nudity… I think the way we relate to our natural self has completely changed… I don’t know if I can blame the internet or advertising for it. Maybe it's humanity's desire to control and tame nature…. Maybe its fear of the unknown….
DD: Has it altered the way you think about the nude?
Mario Sorrenti: No
DD: I guess your early images of Kate Moss for the Calvin Klein Obsession ad campaign were seen as being very radical, particularly in how sensual they were. Was that your intention with those images?
Mario Sorrenti: Not at all, I didn't see them as being radical or sexy, provocative images. To me they were simple existential expressions. They were about Love.
DD: How did people first react to them?
Mario Sorrenti: Calvin loved them. I think most people were shocked.
DD: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Mario Sorrenti: Yes I do.
DD: How important is intimacy in your work?
Mario Sorrenti: It's vital. I think it’s the only way to create.
DD: Is there also a element of seduction when you work with your subjects?
Mario Sorrenti: I think it's important to make a connection some how, to understand each other, and to trust.
DD: Finally, what has continues to inspire you after all these years?
Mario Sorrenti: Life, family, women, love, music, art.
Draw Blood for Proof is out now.