For her latest portfolio, photographer Vanina Sorrenti has gone back to creative friends and past subjects, revisiting women she first photographed in the 1990s. Here, she talks to another long-time collaborator, 10’s global editor-in-chief Sophia Neophitou, about her intimate new project and the art of taking portraits.
Sophia Neophitou: Tell me about this series of portraits, the idea behind them and your connection to the women in the pictures.
Vanina Sorrenti: The whole project started from returning to take portraits of women that I grew up with, that I had photographed when I started my journey into photography. We were all young together in New York, Paris, London. I wanted to revisit these women who now have children and careers. Initially, we were all young, starting out, trying to accomplish our dreams.
SN: Why did you want to photograph some of them with their children?
VS: I wanted to get a rounded picture of the artist and their community, how we are all so interconnected and influence each other creatively, and how we pass down our craft and creativity and influence to the new generation. It is so beautiful to get my friends in their personal spaces, in their studios with their artworks, at home with their kids. We have such an incredible community of people from all walks of life, all aspects of the industry. Maybe they started out doing one thing and found themselves doing another. It is so beautiful to see the growth through time. Life throws challenges at us and yet we are still here, working together, creating together. We only get closer and stronger and more beautiful, as a community, as a tribe. I wanted to acknowledge that.
Valerie Sadoun, photographer; Valerie wears jumpsuit by RALPH LAUREN.
SN: Why was it important for you to photograph them in their personal environments?
VS: I wanted to get an intimate portrait of them at home and in their workspaces: everything that defines us in our environment.
SN: What was interesting about being on set was the energy of each sitter. Each brought a different dynamic to the image. How do you navigate that?
VS: You must take into account whatever is going on in that person’s day, at that moment in time – sometimes you get them at a good moment, sometimes you get them at a bad moment. You must make a connection regardless of the atmosphere and enter into a ritual together. My girlfriend Susie [Lopez] said, “Wow, I’ve never seen you work.” It was the first time I had ever photographed her. She said, “It is interesting how you made us feel so comfortable and at ease. Your voice was so soothing and healing that you get into this trance and this connectedness, this dance.” And that is what I love about photography. It becomes a seance, it becomes a ritual between you and the subject. It is just a medium to connect. Almost like a meditation.
From left: Stevie and Ned Sims.
SN: I like the analogy of it being like a dance, because with some of them you were doing a quickstep and with others you were doing a waltz.
VS: Some were rock and roll, others were jazz, some were folk.
SN: Do you prefer taking portraits to fashion? Do you think your approach to fashion is portraiture?
VS: For sure, I am a portrait photographer. My influences were theatre and film and painting. I studied drama. I was always very into personality and character development, and so when I went into photography, it was an expression of that. For me, it is about documenting people. My father is a painter and I was always very influenced by classical paintings. When I delved more into photography, I brought it all together in one. Portraiture, painting, fashion, photography; it is all interconnected. I am more drawn to portraiture because, when I am taking a picture, my primary intention is to connect with my subject. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a fashion image… I love it. It is just not my main focus.
Clockwise from top: Yelena Yemchuk, Sasha Moss, Mirabelle Moss and Sonny the cat.
Yelena Yemchuk, artist. Yelena wears ULLA JOHNSON.
SN: How do you create such a feeling of intimacy in your pictures?
VS: I think the intimacy comes from being alone with them and having a small team on set. A lot of what I shot here was just with my digital tech on the computer and no one else. I didn’t want it to look manicured. It is nice to document people being themselves, looking real and identifiable. But also finding the fantasy within the reality. There is theatre to it, in recreating life and documenting it, and that is the fun of it.
SN: They all look so beautiful, but what is your idea of beauty and how do you express it in your work?
VS: My idea of beauty is… when you let go. Somehow, that vulnerability, that strength in being open and relaxed has always fascinated. We see so many statues or images of celebrities being powerful and strong. But that is not what makes the person. What makes the person are all the obstacles we go through – when we’re on our knees and then miraculously have gotten back up. When you see someone being comfortable in that vulnerable space, you find more strength than when someone is being stoic and strong and defiant.
SN: Some people can feel very self-conscious. How do you navigate that?
VS: There is always a sense of awkwardness, but I think that is also quite beautiful. When somebody is slightly awkward, I find it more interesting than when they have the perfect pose. I have always liked the odd toe curl inward, or the hand [being] a bit weird – all those idiosyncrasies we subconsciously express. It is okay to be uncomfortable and then, somehow, by the end of the shoot, you find your comfort zone. In the editing process you must make the choice between the more awkward images or the more languid ones. But what you hope for in the end is a feeling of synchronicity that happens between you, the person you’re photographing, the environment and your connection to it. They’re all interconnected, and that is the shot.
Taken from Issue 71 of 10 Magazine – FASHION, ICON, DEVOTEE – on newsstands now. Order your copy here.
Serena Rees MBE, CEO, creative director, designer and mother; Serena wears jumpsuit by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, necklace by CELINE.
THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
Photographer VANINA SORRENTI
Fashion Editor SOPHIA NEOPHITOU
Fashion co-ordinator GARTH ALLDAY SPENCER
Digital assistants ROBERT SELF, ANDREW LAWRENCE, KOTARO KAWASHIMA
Fashion assistant GEORGIA EDWARDS
Production ZAC APOSTOLOU