In the real world, children following in the footsteps of their parents is a ubiquitous enough occurrence. But while second-generation performers in Hollywood are almost a cliche, second or third generation photographers are less of a common occurrence.
For the celebrated Italian-born, New York-raised photographer Mario Sorrenti, photography seems to run in the blood. Mario is himself the son of fashion photographer Franca Sorrenti, and his late brother David was also a photographer. He shot to fame in the ’90s for his arresting, naturalistic portraits of Kate Moss for Calvin Klein’s Obsession campaign. Since then, the elder Sorrenti has worked with everyone from Chanel to Shiseido.
Following in the family business, so to speak, is 19-year-old Gray Sorrenti — Mario’s daughter. A burgeoning talent in her own right, Gray’s raw, youthful style captures the spirit of her generation and has resulted in campaigns for brands like Loewe.
The duo’s latest project is a collaboration with La Mer on a special “Edge of the Sea” campaign. Shooting and capturing memories of countless summers spent in places like St Barth’s and Spain they have created unique, black-and-white deco photography that adorns the jars of two, very special editions of the legendary Crème de la Mer. In an exclusive interview with T Singapore, the duo reveal what went behind the collaboration, what working with a close relative is really like, and how the crème was actually a part of their lives even before they got the call from La Mer.
How did this collaboration come about and what were your thoughts on working with La Mer?
GRAY SORRENTI: When I was little I had very bad eczema. We tried to find solutions that would calm my skin and really, nothing worked. It wasn’t until I found my mom’s La Mer and smothered it all over my face — it was really the only thing that would help calm my irritation. My mom would eventually find the bottle with nothing left… it was a funny thing.
MARIO SORRENTI: My wife Mary and I were first introduced to the Crème de la Mer at least 15 years ago. Back then we used to buy creams when we were travelling to Europe, but this woman told us about the Crème and Mary just loved it. So when La Mer came to us, we thought, “Oh my god!” It was kind of amazing because we love this brand and we love that cream.
How did you select the photographs you would use and where were they taken?
MS: For us it was very seamless, we didn’t have to think that much. We just went to where we were the happiest, where we loved being, and took pictures doing what we felt the most comfortable doing. We have a house in Spain, so we decided that we would go there and take photos of our environment, and of each other. We both love photography and it seemed totally natural making art in that place; there wasn’t much else that went into it because that’s what we do anyway. We didn’t want to bring any models into the equation because we just wanted the simplest, most natural thing.
We decided to do black and white photography because that’s what we love doing and that’s our art, that’s the way we express ourselves and that’s our craft. There’s something that’s way beyond just being charming, it’s a historic part of our lives, the way we create and document. It was just natural because that’s what we create as artists.
GS: This project brought us back to the way that we created things when I was little. We didn’t think that much of this being a campaign, or what went onto the bottle. We thought more so of the things we’d do as a family, in my childhood, where everything was stripped down and we’d bring our inks and pencils and books to the ocean and this was very similar to that. There’s a relation of when I was little and now, it all comes together.
“We decided to do black and white photography because that’s what we love doing and that’s our art, that’s the way we express ourselves and that’s our craft,” says Mario Sorrenti.
Are you a person who enjoys spending time by or in the sea? What do you think of La Mer’s message of ocean conservation and does this align with your own values?
MS: I grew up by the Mediterranean Sea in Naples, so for me the ocean means going back to my childhood and remembering my experiences growing up on the ocean, living close to the beach and then having those experiences for us as a family. It became really important for us to have these experiences by the ocean every summer and Christmas.
The kids grew up in New York City, so for us it was important to explore places that were the complete opposite. For us, getting away from the city and spending that time together as a family in the most natural, organic, unspoiled environment — always close to the ocean — was really important. So when La Mer asked us to do this campaign, it just seemed totally natural to our lifestyle. The way that La Mer is inspired by and born from the ocean is very much similar to the way we live — and we still continue to live that way.
What was it like collaborating with on this project?
MS: My favourite part, which I will never forget and I will forever be indebted to La Mer for, was the opportunity to actually work with Gray and to see Gray do what she loves to do so closely; to be able to share ideas and share my knowledge in a really, really close and intimate way. That was the most special thing that could ever happen, really.
Did you find any part of the process particularly unexpected or insightful?
MS: Part of the campaign was shot in Spain, and the other part was in St. Barths, which are both places that we have a long history with. We’ve been travelling to both places with the kids since they were little, during Spring Break or Easter, so it just seemed like the most natural places to shoot.
GS: It was really nice because we were able to connect to the places where we got to spend a lot of time together, places that we grew up with, by the ocean.
MS: We spent the month of August in Spain taking photographs, exploring different areas and locations each day. We took a lot of pictures and had a lot of material to work with. To finish the video portion we decided to go to St. Barths because the landscape is very similar to Spain, but also because it was another place we love going to. We kind of extended what we had already begun in Spain; we already knew where we were with the campaign and what we had started, what kind of light we had been playing with. We realized that the images we wanted to create were a little bit more abstract — the silhouettes, the contrasts — just so that the photographs would feel more universal and less specifically about us but more about the light, the photographs, the environment, the textures.
Mario and Gray Sorrenti each selected a black and white image that adorns the jars of these two limited edition Crème de la Mers.
How do you think both your photography styles differ and in what ways are they similar?
MS: I think our work is very different. I think Gray’s work is very spontaneous and intuitive, she’s definitely connected in a very natural way to her peers. I’m also inspired by her energy. I think my work can become very studied and you sense the mature experience behind what I do. But I think we both have something very similar, maybe it’s the emotion and passion in both of our works.
GS: As human beings on this planet, I feel like you and I were given some kind of power to be able to connect in a pure and natural way with our subject, where not only is the subject comfortable but we are comfortable too. There’s this natural balance. Not only are we creating an image, our subject is also creating that image with us. We are reading into the emotion and reading into the people, it’s something that’s natural. I think that’s the way you raised me, the way you raised yourself and the way that you’ve been raised.
Gray, when did your interest in photography begin and what have been some of the major influences in your career?
GS: I’ve grown up in a house of artists and I’ve observed this my whole life. I didn’t really know that I wanted to be a photographer, it wasn’t something that my dad told me I had to do. It kind of naturally came to me, I guess one day I picked up a camera that my dad gave me and it felt good. I just I couldn’t stop taking pictures. My first camera was a film camera so that’s how I started and still what I’m doing today. As soon as I got to high school, my school had a dark room and I spent hours and hours in there. It’s kind of the same way my dad’s love for it evolved — mine evolved in the same manner. I had him to watch and I was able to learn from his experiences.
For me, I love Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson – he’s one of my favorite photographers, Bruce Bernard… there are a trillion. I’m also really influenced by Japanese photographers like Daido Moriyama.
What was it like working with your father for this project, and what were some interesting learning points (if any) during the collaboration and working with a beauty brand?
GS: I see social media almost like my own diary-like a social diary, it’s where I can put up and share what I love. It’s like, here are my pictures, here’s something I’m inspired by. It’s a folder of my inspiration.
What are some upcoming projects of yours that particularly exciting?
GS: I’m making a documentary and I’ve been doing it for a year and a half now. I’ve just been dedicating every day to it. Obviously I love photography but I’m really enchanted by filmmaking and evolving into film.
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