Davide Sorrenti’s life and career in fashion photography were short but meaninful. Coming from an Italian family of artists and fashion photographers (his brother and sister are Vanina and Mario Sorrenti and his mother Francesca Sorrenti) he was always curious about the world around him. After moving with his mother and siblings from Italy to New York in the early eighties, he spent his days discovering the city. After getting a camera, he began trying to document and capture his experiences and his friends.
Images via See Know Evil
In the nineties as the fashion world began rebelling against perfect airbrushed images and unattainable beauty standards Davide’s style was quickly recognized and picked up by fashion magazines. Like the photographs he took of his friends, skating, smoking and generally hanging around, his fashion photographs captured the models (often teenagers themselves) as they were, with their stylish slouchy poses, unkept hair and raw looks. There was a strong mainstream interest in culture on the fringes of society and a demand by young people to see themselves represented in the media, making Davide’s style a success.
Teenagers themselves, Davide and his crew of friends Shawn Regruto, Justin Salguero and Richie Akiva, aimed to take their taste, style and culture into the maintstream through creative endeavours.
“He was bringing everything that we were to the pages of magazines,” says Shawn; “the realness of everything, graffiti, hip-hop,” says Justin. “He was a trendsetter,” says Richie. “People copied everything he did,” Justin says, offering, “slitting the sides of your pants legs . . . cutting your own hair.” –New York Magazine: Caution: These Kids are About to Blow Up.
David Sorrenti for i.d, The Undressed Issue, 1996
James King by David Sorrenti for Dune Magazine
His desire to take his underground culture and introduce it in the pages of glossy magazines inadvertently helped create an aesthetic that became known as “heroin chic”. Davide’s style (as well as that of other documentary photographers such as Nan Goldin), quickly became fashionable, copied and used by mainstream advertisers. Once taken out of the documentary realm and into advertising, it caused controversy and was blamed for glamorizing drug use.
”The issue is to know the difference between mindless, unconscious commercialism that’s being done in the name of edginess and truth, versus real truth, which always has such human qualities that it reveals something about the human condition — that, we need,’ ‘To me, one can always tell the difference between a photograph that has substance and one that’s just abusing the mirror to life that photography can be. Those are the pictures that cheapen human life.’‘-Ingrid Sischy, the editor of Interview as quoted in The New York Times: Death Tarnishes Fashion’s ‘Heroin Look’.
James King by Davide Sorrenti via See Know Evil
Davide Sorrenti and James King in a still from David Bailey’s 1998 documentary Models Up Close
Davide, a drug user himself died a short time after starting his career. His health was already fragile due to thalassemia, a condition which made him look much younger than his age and was probably made worse with drug use. He died of a kidney ailment on February 4, 1997 at the age of 20. Around the time of his death the fashion world took a look at the impact of their imagery and ditched the “Heroin Look” redirecting editorials and advertising towards a brighter and healthier looking image. Davides’ friends and girlfriend, (his muse model James King, a heroine user herself) used the tragedy to change paths themselves and move past drug addiction. His mother Francesca became a voice against the “heroin look” and the use of underage models in advertising.
Not much visual information on Davide Sorrenti’s work is availble online but luckily See Know Evil, an independent documentary on his life by artist and filmaker Charles Curran has been in the works for the past few years and aims to tell his story through interviews of the family and friends closest to him. You can follow its process and progress here. We are looking forwards to seeing the film and getting a more personal insight on this unique photographer directly from those who knew him best.