HOW PHOTOGRAPHY DEFINED THE AMERICAN DENIM ITW FEDERICO SORRENTINO

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-Hi Federico, where and when were you born and where do you currently live?

I was born in Reggio Emilia in 1986 and I currently I live between Milan and London, working mainly in Europe.

 -What are the set or the photographic genres in which you currently working?

I’m a fashion photographer and the main part of my job revolves around fashion sets and magazines.  Before the Covid-19 lockdown, I worked – among other projects – on two campaigns for two different brands: one located here in Milan and the other in Fuerteventura, which was my last trip at the end of February. The results gave me a lot of satisfaction. The very last shooting was an editorial for a men’s magazine, taken in a countryside location, immersed in nature. My work allows me to travel a lot, but from the beginning of the lockdown, I started working on my film archive, on projects already realized but still unpublished and which will be out soon. In addition, I resumed another side of my career, as a photography teacher, holding online seminars and collaborating with students for an important fashion school in London.

 -How could we define the idea of photography that you express?

I think my photography is strongly characterized by an attention to lines, geometries and perspectives. Human subjects blend with the surrounding environment of cities, buildings and landscapes, producing a sense of harmony between shapes and colors.I developed a natural sense of aesthetics, using natural light and representing my subjects in a relaxed and spontaneous attitude. I enjoy experimenting both with analogue and digital methods, moving from the darkroom to advanced post production, but my penchant is for analogue and I am a collector of old cameras and polaroids. To my taste, film photography gives a more concrete feeling of the image taken as the printing process keeps the depth of the reality.

 -How do you think photography has changed in recent years?

At the beginning of my career I was an assistant for a photographer who took pictures with an optical bench, so I learned the whole process of creating a photo and the time necessary to take it. I think that today, the time factor is disadvantageous in the photographic process: photographers are not given the time to think and take a nice picture, you have to constantly meet deadlines and work at a frenetic pace. Everyone needs everything immediately. This, I believe, is the reason why photography has changed and today photography produces a lot of content but not always quality images.

 -Today we photograph a lot and we communicate more through images than through words. What do you think of this trend?

Images are a very immediate way to communicate, especially in a sector such as fashion, where many images are created every day to sell the items of a brand. For sure they are more effective than words, from them you can perceive the attitude and mood. But the result of the “everything at once, all in a hurry” habit and the great amount of content we come across every day is that, at the end, we don’t pay enough attention to what we see. So, the problem is in the quantity, not in the images themselves.

 -What are the experiences that have made you grow more at work level in your present and past career?

After my studies in Set Design at the Fine Arts Academy of Bologna, I found a job as a salesman in a small photo shop near Reggio Emilia. I really had to insist to get hired at that time! But my tenacity has been useful to me throughout my journey. It has been the beginning of an unexpected and gradual passion that led me to become more and more interested in photographic techniques and to deepen my knowledge of the tools that I was selling to customers. But at some point, I felt it was time to change. After about two years, I started working as an assistant in various photographic studios in Milan, a city full of inspirations, especially in the field of fashion photography. These experiences helped me develop my abilities, putting myself to the test and experimenting. A parenthesis abroad, between London and New York, allowed me to focus on my own style and to refine tastes and influences. Soon the first satisfactions arrived: when I was 25, I was called to teach photography at the Istituto Marangoni, school of fashion and design, and I started realizing shoots for Italian and international magazines and brands. As often happens, you find your own path by getting lost or by pure chance.

 -With which the camera body and with what Lens are you working on?

I work mainly with films, I am a nostalgic 🙂 I also work in digital for catalogs and lookbooks in which many images are needed and the deadline is very short.For my fashion works, I mainly use a 6×7 Pentax medium format and my favorite lens is 90mm; beside the medium format, I also take my Nikon F90 with a 50mm lens in case I need more speed when shooting.When I shoot my projects and traveling, I prefer other cameras, especially a 6×9 Fujica and a G1 Contax with 45mm lens.

 -What is the most difficult thing to photograph and the one that gratifies or exalts you most?

Ironically, I find it more complicated to shoot fashion because it is a “constructed” photograph, although I always try to express it naturally.What I like most, instead, are the pictures I take when I’m traveling for pleasure or when I have the chance to visit a city or a location during a business project. I really like to tell what I see and to look for the authenticity of a place.

 -The photo editing recall the American culture, can you tell us when and why did you take these photos?

My interest for the American culture started unconsciously when I was 12 and I started playing basketball. Obviously, I was fascinated by the NBA basketball players, but also by the sneakers of that time, such as the Jordan 1. Growing up, I got closer to the Hip Hop culture, including music, graffiti and b-boys. I was part of a crew of break-dancers. I’ve never left these interests and I believe that, in entering the world of photography, it was a spontaneous transition for me to look at the American culture, especially looking at the work of a wide range of photographers, from the 30s to the 80s. In all these years, I’ve always dreamed of being able to go to the United States to see, and above all photograph, everything I had always seen through movies, books and videos. I finally started a project on the United States in 2014 and, since then, I’ve been visiting the country several times for work and pleasure, trying to catch that nostalgic atmosphere that can still be found in the most remote areas of America and to give, through my eyes, a contemporary aesthetic twist.

 -In addition to the photographic point of view, what impressed you about the atmosphere and spirit of the trip?

Definitely the wide spaces and the variety of landscapes: within few kilometers you can drive from the peaks of Yosemite National Park, between bears, gigantic sequoias and waterfalls at 5 degrees and 3000 meters above sea level, to the Death Valley, 45 degrees and up to 86 meters below sea level, crossing a myriad of unexpected landscapes between the dunes and ups and downs; or in Palm Springs, where in 15 minutes on the Aerial Tramway you can go from the Sonoran Desert to the San Jacinto Mountains, passing through 5 different areas of vegetation and with a temperature range equivalent to what you perceive driving from Mexico to Canada.The big cities, immense and frenetic, where strong contrasts and lifestyles live together at the antipodes and you can meet many different cultures. I was also struck by the fact that these cities are a symbol of the great development of our time, yet as soon as you leave the urban areas you get to know places where time seems to have stopped. Each time, you discover something new and it almost doesn’t seem that everything belongs to the same country. And you remain there, so fascinated that curiosity seems to never run out while the kilometers run fast without you even realizing it.

 -Do you have any reference points in the iconography and history of American photography?

I am very fascinated when I leaf through the pictures of the FSA (Farm Security Administration). One of his great representatives is Walker Evans and, in addition to him, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, to name a few. They were very important for the contribution they left us of that historical period, related to the Great Depression. Other important references are Robert Frank’s The Americans, I would say a sort of Bible for documentary photography, and the anthology of Ansel Adams, who shot in optical bench and in Polaroid, for landscape photography. As far as color is concerned, I am very inspired by William Eggleston mainly, without neglecting Stephen Shore, Lee Friedlander, Fred Herzog and Joel Meyerowitz.

 -Do you find any difference in approach, style or technique between Italian and American photography?

In some ways, I find American photography much truer, spontaneous, in line with my way of being; in the American photographers I am inspired by, I always read a kind of ease and authenticity, without too many constructions. Some projects may seem ordinary, but just because they represent something that is there for all to see: William Eggleston has used this approach and, in this way, he has documented a historical phase and left a testimony of the time.

 -Tell us about your latest project?

I am editing the photography project of the trip I made in Vietnam, traveling from the capital Ho Chi Minh in the south, to Hanoi in the north. My partner and I crossed the country backpacking, on buses, night trains, motorbikes, boats, taking a dip in local life. An amazing experience!

 -What brings you closer to denim culture?

Books with old photos to leaf through have always aroused my interest; they’ve been preserved over time up to us, and I am very fascinated to discover the story they tell.My curiosity prompted me to understand how and why people were dressed in that way, what they wore and also the history of that fabric.Denim, in particular, tells us a lot about the story of those who wore that jeans and how they lived, through its scars and wear, especially the collector’s items.

 -How many denim do you have?

I have about thirty denim items at the moment.

 -What more can a denim convey in a photo shoot?

The photography I take is very simple and natural, and I think denim gives this sense of naturalness and freedom that I need in my photos. At the same time, it is an originally male garment that I believe is capable of enhancing a woman’s natural sensuality.

 -What item of clothing has impressed you most in your photo shoots or if you have any preference on any Denim service you have made?

A garment that really fascinates me is the Chore Coat, I like its robustness and its story, use and versatility.

 -Do you have references or inspirations about iconic photos where denim or its history have relevance?

Denim certainly has a lot of relevance in the photos of the Great American Depression, my main reference for this style. Another very important reference for me is the series shot by Avedon entitled “Worker”.

 -Do you prefer to photograph a color or black and white denim?

I prefer to shoot denim in black and white, because it gives me a stronger sense of nostalgia thanks to the contrasts.

 -Give advice to users who follow us on DENIM BOULEVARD and who want to continue and invest in photography.

I think that the most important thing that feeds photography is to photograph what one feels, that non-academic instinct that naturally leads you to record an important moment for you. Your instinct is more important than any technical rule. “Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist”, as Pablo Picasso used to say.