Back in the early ’90s, an army of emerging creatives were in search of something raw. Something more real and relatable than the unattainable aesthetics that were part and parcel with the previous decade. (All shiny hair, svelte legs and perfect pouts.) That movement – “heroin chic” as coined by Interview editor Ingrid Sischy – was spearheaded by photographers like Corinne Day, David Sims and Juergen Teller, and stylists like Camilla Nickerson and Melanie Ward, all of whom came to define ‘90s counterculture.
One photographer in particular became the poster boy for the heroin chic aesthetic, the late fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti – brother of Mario and boyfriend of Jaime King – who tragically passed away just before his 20th birthday. Three months after his death the then US president, Bill Clinton, condemned the movement on national television, referring to it as the “glorification of heroin” part-due to the “waifish” models, filthy living-room settings and sullen looks seen on the pages of indie magazines across the pond at the time.
Sorrenti spent his short life lensing the fast-paced, razor-sharp life of a kid living in New York. The resulting candid moments documented his friends and then-girlfriend Jamie King irreverently hanging out, smoking fags and partying in dimly-lit spaces.
Coupled with films like The Basketball Diaries (1995) and Larry Clark’s Kids (1996), Sorrenti’s imagery has gone on to tell the tales of mid-’90s New York from the perspective of a boy caught in the midst of the madness. This year he became the subject of See Know Evil – the acclaimed documentary by first-time director Charles Curran – that celebrates his life and work, while questioning why he was intrinsically tied to the movement. According to his mother Francesca – who collaborated closely with Curran on the documentary – Davide was not interested in becoming a fashion photographer. His intention was to simply document his surroundings. “Davide’s death was painted in the media as the result of a heroin overdose,” Francesca said in an interview with The Face earlier this year. “There wasn’t enough heroin in his system to kill a fly.”
To celebrate the astonishing body of work amassed by Sorrenti in the two years before his passing, IDEA are publishing ArgueSKE 1994 – 1997 – a major book featuring his magazine editorials, contact sheets, self portraits, collages and sketchbook records, all edited by Francesca Sorrenti.
Below are excerpts from those who knew him best, including Harmony Korine, Milla Jovovich and Glen Luchford.
“Davide had the magic. He took beautiful pictures and he was very special. He was definitely the real thing!”
“We never thought about the work, the art, we lived and breathed it. Davide and I fit at first sight. The sensitive tenor of our natures knew that we were kids born in this world but not of it. The lens is an extension of not only his heart but all of ours. He wanted you to paint with every color outside of the lines. Davide Sorrenti was and is forever my first love, my partner and my best friend. He could see things others could not. The mystical, the nuanced, the joy, he saw through you. Everything was sacred and held value for him. Only someone who lived on the precipice of knowing how fleeting this life is can understand the stunning weight of each moment’s beauty. Davide was symphonic in nature, quick to take the piss, a firm need to speak out for what is right and just somehow always with a Puck-like smile and laugh. He was and is a lover, fiercely loyal and his legacy is ALL of this and he knew it. With the totality of his bright bursting creativity Davide left us with an explosion of glittering stars — each one unique, moving, expansive in nature, wondrous. A legacy that I look up to knowing that every one connects; so do connect them, there you will see the constellation that tells us the story of his soul. The stories of this world and the heavens that he somehow saw before anyone could dream it. Living and breathing — a glorious paradox that is Davide. There for you to take it in or leave it, in your face, a revelation promised again and again, brutally reflecting what hides in shadow and light. Yet quiet, gentle and radically pure. Always there for you — in a capacity so sincere it will make you question the limited views we have been taught about this world. And just like Davide, infinitely mesmerizing.”
“Davide was the quintessential B‑Boy, he was a writer, he tagged Argue, he was a skater, and an artist. He was a really prolific artist, he kept diaries… I didn’t realize when I first met Davide that he was living with a condition, and I was shocked when I found out what he had to go through on a daily basis. Because here we are with our friends, hanging out, he’s hanging out just the same, keeping up with all of us, yet he has to go to a hospital the next morning to get a transfusion. He changed a lot of people’s lives. He changed my life, and he’ll continue to do so, and people will continue to ask questions which I think is the important thing — it’s not all black and white, it’s not this and not that, it’s not one way or another, it’s everything put together to make a person real. And I think that’s what Davide was always searching for, real people like he called them, you’re real people, you’re good people. That’s all he wanted in his life, to be surrounded by real good people. And I think he was.”
“Children that grow up with illness are not like you and I. They see life through a different prism. Dave was such a fascinating person. He’d be very juvenile one moment, then weirdly profound and poetic the next. But always entertaining. One summer at the Jersey shore I wanted to get a tattoo, and he tagged along with me. When it was finished he insisted on paying for it. After in the car ride home I asked him why, he just looked out the window and said, “When I’m gone you’ll still remember me.” I never thought about him the same way after that. I’d never truly grasped what his daily life was like. We take so much for granted. I still think about him all the time.”
“I first met Davide at the Jersey shore. It was a random encounter, he or someone he was with asked me if I was a writer which was the normal question to find out if someone did graffiti. It’s funny how when you’re a kid you have a radar for like-minded individuals. At that time I only knew him as ARGUE. It wasn’t till later after crossing paths with him several times back in Manhattan that I learned his real name was Davide and later that he was a talented photographer. I always appreciated my random run-ins with Davide, he had a good energy and a great sense of humor. He still shows up in my thoughts from time to time and never fails to bring a smile.”