A Tribute to Davide Sorrenti’s Beautiful, Radical Fashion Photography

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My Beutyfull Lyfe
Detour editorial,1997 (Frankie)My Beutyfull Lyfe, Photography by Davide Sorrenti. Courtesy IDEA Books

“I wanted to keep his memory alive”: speaking to AnOther, Francesca Sorrenti reflects on her son’s extraordinary legacy

Gritty, stripped-back and effortlessly beautiful: the photographs of a young Davide Sorrenti in 1990s New York upended the way the world looked at fashion photography. In stark contrast to the glossy editorials that pervaded fashion magazines at the time – which usually required huge teams of people and weeks of meticulous planning – Sorrenti’s photographs were startling raw, often using no make-up or styling at all, and spontaneously shot on the streets or in threadbare apartments.

Never without a camera in hand, these radical new fashion images – which were later unfairly maligned in “heroin chic” controversies by the press – were in many ways a natural extension of Sorrenti’s personal life, which he voraciously captured on camera in the years before his tragic death, aged just 20. “I don’t think so many photographers would be as successful now without his example,” writes Katie Grand in the foreword to a new IDEA-published book of Sorrenti’s pioneering fashion work, My Beutyfull Lyfe. “He was the first of the truly youthful fashion photographers, taking pictures of his friends and peers in their bedrooms and studios.”

The book was carefully brought to life by the photographer’s mother, Francesca Sorrenti, and compiles some of his widely-loved work with never-before-seen images, alongside magazine tear sheets and his own personal notebook pages. It follows the sold out photo books ArgueSKE (2019) and Polaroids (2020), and features extraordinary portraits of Jaime King, Amy Wesson, Frankie Rayder, as well as editorials for magazines like The Face and Detour.

Here, in her own words, Francesca Sorrenti reflects on the experience of creating the book and the lasting legacy of her son’s work.

“All three books have a different meaning for me. I wanted people to understand that Davide had so many sides to his personality. Yes, he was a homeboy, and he spoke slang, but the interesting part in his character was his relationship with his camera – basically, it never left his side. 

ArgueSKE was created right after his documentary See Know Evil. I felt that it was the perfect time to publish a book so that people could have something tangible of Davide’s creative life. It was very difficult going through everything because 90 per cent of his work was always shared with me when he was still alive. After his passing I couldn’t bear to go through them, so for 20 years they just stayed hidden away in storage. In fact, only when Charlie Curan was making See Know Evil did I allow someone for the first time to rummage through his pictures for his documentary. The Polaroids book came about when I realised that there were hundreds of Polaroids that I really didn’t pay attention to when I created the first book. I felt the timing was right for that as a follow up because they were so intense, and I sort of laughed to myself when I realised he was also running around with his Polaroid camera.

My Beutyfull Lyfe is a book dedicated to the fashion work that Davide did professionally and personally. To think this young man was able to speak to fashion professionals and prove to them that he could do the work in a professional and creative way and could deliver a story worth printing! Davide’s archive is so immense for such a short period of time and I haven't even begun to categorise all his work. 

“Davide Sorrenti was a very creative young man. When Davide passed I felt that no life should go unnoticed. ‘Here today, gone tomorrow.’ I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted to keep his memory alive. After the documentary was created with an outstanding turn-out worldwide at screenings and film festivals, not to mention the photography exhibition held in NYC, which was swamped with so many people of all ages, it made me realise that we needed to create a book of his work. 

“I hoped so much that it would do well and beyond my expectations both ArgueSKE and Polaroids book sold out immediately. And I hope for the same for My Beutyfull Lyfe and whatever is to follow. On Davide’s Instagram many people have used the hashtag #LegendsNeverDie. I hope so.”

My Beutyfull Lyfe is published by IDEA Books and launches at Dover Street Market New York on Sunday, 21 November.