The late photographer’s personal work is a vignette of 90s New York City’s youth and street subculture
Late photographer Davide Sorrenti’s legacy is being given the reception it has long-deserved with an exhibition launching in New York City this week. Titled Our Beutyfull Future, the show takes its name from one of the pages of Davide’s journals and is curated by his friend Jade Berreau alongside his mother Francesca Sorrenti. While Davide was born in Naples, he, along with Francesca, sister Vanina, and brother Mario, moved to New York City in the early 80s when he was five. Francesca had split from their father, and Davide, who suffered from Cooley’s Anaemia, could receive more advanced medical care in America.
In 1994, brother Mario documented Davide’s struggles and experiences with his illness and the machine that Davide had to painfully hook himself up to each night to give him medication. At 18, Davide picked up the camera for himself. He lensed his own self-portraits but also made intimate portraits of his friends and surroundings, including his girlfriend, model Jaime King. A year later, he had caught the eye of the fashion world and was quickly commissioned to shoot campaigns and editorials for magazines and brands.
“It’s clear now, when you look at his images, that there was a lot more poetry and light than he was given credit for” – Jade Berreau
Tragically, Davide’s career was cut short. At just 20-years-old, he passed away from the illness which he had refused to let control him. While Francesca stated that his death was due to Cooley's anaemia, many instead attributed it to a heroin overdose. “Davide was not misinterpreted until after his death when the stigma of a certain moment in fashion was wrongly thrust upon him,” explains Berreau. Instead of a celebration of his work, Davide became a scapegoat for the term ‘heroin chic’, used to demonise images of melancholic models. “Unfortunately drug use was something the fashion business chose to glamorise, and Davide's images were caught in the middle,” observes Berreau.
While this blame has since been alleviated, Our Beutyfull Future instead chooses to focus on Davide’s personal body of work. “At the time (of his death), he was seen as a very charismatic and emerging young photographer, known for his street slang and boyish charm,” Berreau says. “Davide approached photography as an extension of himself. You never noticed that he always, at all times, had a camera on him because it was so effortless to him.” It’s this approach, Berreau believes, which anchors Sorrenti’s work – a snapshot of New York’s frenetic energy of the early to mid-90s. “Davide’s photographs are punctuated by an honesty and immediacy that only youth and sincerity of purpose can bring. His work offers us a glimpse into where the roots of this culture began and this can serve as a touchstone for the history of contemporary youth and street culture as it remains to be informed today. Having known Davide during this time and what mattered most to him, it seemed only fitting to pay homage to this body of work and an extension of his legacy.”
This very personal connection between Berreau, Davide, Francesca, and their family, brings an authenticity to the show that is inherent in the photographer’s work. It’s a continuation of a legacy that Davide’s friends and family are pushing into the future, with poignant documentaries such as Charlie Curran’s See Know Evil untangling his legacy and celebrating it with both new and old audiences. Berreau explains that back in 2014, as then-senior editor of Let’s Panic magazine, she asked Francesca for permission to publish Davide’s work. “She was very receptive and opened the archive to me where I was able to sit with it over the course of a couple of months.” Five years later, the pair join forces again, this time with New York City’s CC Projects, to bring Davide’s solo show as the inaugural exhibition for the gallery. “Given the close relationship that we both have with Davide, being able to show this work is a dream project, and a full circle story to where the roots began – we all started out together and now we get to celebrate and pay homage to Davide, someone who was always so inspiring well loved, and dearly missed and still has such a strong presence. We want his legacy to continue in the right way.”
Speaking on what she hopes a new generation will see in his work, she reveals: “I hope the new generation will experience a young man who was especially aware and inspired by his surroundings. In no way was he interested in that darkness (of heroin chic photography). On the contrary, it's clear now when you look at his images that there was a lot more poetry and light than he was given credit for. They stand the test of time.”
Our Beutyfull Future open 26 June – 28 July 2019 at CC Projects, 431 East 6th St, New York City