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Mario Sorrenti –The Pirelli Calendar


The 2012 Pirelli Calendar was previewed earlier this week by the world media, international guests and collectors at “The Armory”, the 19th century New York City military landmark.

The 39th issue of ‘The Cal™’ is the work of Mario Sorrenti, the first Italian photographer in the history of a calendar that has become a cult. Neapolitan by birth and New Yorker by adoption, Sorrenti chose the island of Corsica and its rugged landscape to create his ‘swoon’: ecstasy captured by images.
“The intense relationship between a photographer and his Muse is the very essence of the creation of a strong aesthetic dialogue which leads to the sublimation of natural beauty. In making “The Cal™”, I approached the subjects of my pictures by building a straightforward, intimate and real relationship which made it possible for me to instill the images with purity. In “swoon”, I put the bodies in direct contact with Nature, which harbors them as if they were its extension, in a set of images where rocks, land, tree trunks, sky and sea are all turned into a backdrop for the bodies”, says Mario Sorrenti, an artist whose fame was built on his extraordinary skill with nudes.

The 25 pictures of the 2012 “Calendario Pirelli” eighteen black and white and seven colour – are presented in a refined, canvas-lined portfolio, a format that has never been used before.
The 2012 Calendar features 12 protagonists, nine models and three actresses. The models include the Brazilian Isabeli Fontana (also in 2003 Cal by Bruce Weber, 2005 by Patrick Demarchelier, 2009 by Peter Beard and 2011 by Karl Lagerfeld), the Russian Natasha Poly (2011 Pirelli Cal by Karl Lagerfeld), the Dutch Saskia de Brauw and Lara Stone (2009 Cal by Peter Beard and 2011 by Karl Lagerfeld), the Americans Joan Small and Guinevere Van Seenus (2006 Cal by Mert and Marcus), the Polish Malgosia (2009 Cal by Peter Beard), the Lithuanian Edita Vilkeviciute, the British Kate Moss (1994 Calby Herb Ritts and 2006 by Mert and Marcus). The actresses are the Ukrainian Milla Jovovich (1998 Cal by Bruce Weber), the Italian Margareth Madè and the Japanese Rinko Kikuchi.

Mario Sorrenti for the 2012 Pirelli calendar
Twenty five moments captured for Pirelli to create “Swoon”

The nude figure is one of the most beautiful expressions of Nature and the purest way for us to reveal our humanity in the face of art.
Being born in Naples, Italy, I was influenced at a young age by the great artworks of the Renaissance artists and their struggle to express their vision of beauty in Art. This today plays a fundamental role in my image-making.
The images in the Calendar are the culmination of my creative energy, trying to materialize the emotion shared by me and the subject, respecting their beauty, their nature and our integral presence in the universe.
Swoon: to become enraptured by; to be overwhelmed by joy; to faint in ecstasy; a feeling of being in love and within ease. This is the title for this collection of images.
Mario Sorrenti

Mario Sorrenti interviewed by Glenn O’Brien

Glenn O’Brien: – Had you seen the Pirelli Calendar before?
Mario Sorrenti: – I did have a bunch of books about the Calendar over the years that I really liked, and I have used them for reference before, but I’d never actually seen the Calendar. I don’t know if a lot of people have seen them.

GO’B: – They are a very limited edition. I was surprised when I read that you were the first Italian photographer ever to shoot this legendary Calendar from an Italian company.
MS: – Me, too. Now everybody says, “Why didn’t you shoot it in Italy? So, why did you go to Corsica?”

GO’B: – It’s almost Italy, right?
MS: – It’s so close. It’s the Mediterranean.

GO’B: – I think the French consider Corsicans half-Italian anyway.
MS: – They are half-Italian and half-French. But they have their own cultural identity. They have their own vibe going on. I loved it. It’s incredible, beautiful.

GO’B: – Was Corsica your choice?
MS: – It was basically a matter of deduction, finding locations with the right weather for the time of year, trying to get all the geology that I was looking for, finding the right trees, rocks…

GO’B: – The trees are amazing.
MS: – They are really beautiful. And the rock formations there are incredible. Incredible! I could have spent more time on the rock formations, they are really amazing.

GO’B: – Had you been to Corsica before?
MS: – Never. We did a lot of scouting, a lot of research. Then it was enough to see the photos and we decided to go there. It’s an amazing place. I would go again.

GO’B: – There’s a funny thing on your Wikipedia page. It says, “Mario Sorrenti is primarily known for his spreads of nude models.”
MS: – Yes

GO’B: – How did you get a reputation for doing nudes? You don’t see a lot of nudes in fashion.
MS: – I think I just did it naturally because it was something that I really enjoyed doing. I didn’t really think about it. I always thought about taking clothes off as a way of getting closer to the individual and the person, and of getting something that was more honest and pure. And I think that happened because my father was a painter and was always painting nude women. That’s what I grew up with, and that’s the thing I thought I could do to get my work closer to art.

GO’B: – Also you were comfortable with it.
MS: – I was really comfortable with it; personally and physically as well. I was very comfortable being naked, because when I was modeling I did a lot of nudes with other photographers. So at the time, I associated that with the closest thing to artistic expression that I could have achieved intellectually at that period. I didn’t really intellectualize photography as an art with ideas, or consider what you could achieve through different concepts and so on. To me, the closest that I could come to achieving an artistic photograph was to do a nude. So I just did it all the time.

GO’B: – Was it easy to make people comfortable doing that? I imagine there’s a lot of difference from one person to another, but…
MS: – I remember at the time I thought it was easy because I had just come from being a model, so I felt like I had an understanding of what models felt like in front of the camera. And a lot of the people I was photographing were my friends, or models that I had met through modeling and so on. So I felt that some barriers were eliminated because we knew each other intimately and we understood each other in a way. It’s always difficult for somebody to reveal themselves completely in front of you. But I’ve always been the type of photographer that likes to share my work with other people, and show it, especially to the people I’m photographing. I really like to show them what I’m doing. I want them to appreciate it and to be happy with it. I am not interested in making people feel uncomfortable. I like the idea of empowering the people that I photograph through the experience.

GO’B: – Did you get to do exactly what you wanted on this project?
MS: – I did.

GO’B: – So these are the girls that were your choice?
MS: – It was all my choice, but of course I was limited by scheduling and other things beyond our control. But it was completely my choice. I worked with the casting agent in the way that we shared some ideas of girls. She said a lot of the girls had been used before in the calendar but I didn’t care. These are the girls that I like, and that I want to photograph and they have to be in it. Because these are the girls that I have ten years of experience with or even longer, maybe twenty years. So it had to be them for it to really represent me, in a sense. But I brought in some new girls as well, to bring some new blood or freshness to it, I guess.

GO’B: – I think one of the best things about what you’ve done here is the mix of ages. You’ve got Milla and Kate, and then the younger girls. It’s a good blend.
MS: – I wanted it to be familiar. I felt that the more familiar it was the more personal it would be and the closer it would be to being true to me.

GO’B: – When you’re shooting nudes, how many people are on the set? Do you keep it down?
MS: – I just kept it to me and my assistant, and then I made everybody else go away. Basically, I made a very specific structure for how the day and the photographs were going to go. I would spend the first two or three hours on my own with the model, photographing her, and really just getting to know her if I didn’t know her. After that I would bring in the behind-the-scenes team. I didn’t want the girls to be distracted by that. A lot of them also didn’t want to be filmed nude and I wanted them to be completely nude in the photographs. So after a while, for the behind-the-scenes video, we put on some clothes that could work and then we got the behind-the-scenes people to come in and do their stuff. But by that point, I had already achieved what I was trying to do, which was really super intimate. It’s actually the most intimate that I’ve been in a really long time taking pictures, which was really nice.

GO’B: – It has that feeling. It reminds me of pictures that you see from like the 1940s or something, where it’s just the photographer and a model and nature, like Weston, almost.
MS: – That’s what I was trying to achieve. It was like “I want to bring you back to photography; I want to bring you back to when it was Edward Weston and Bill Brandt (noted early 20th century photographers)” and focus on photography in that way. It was great because somehow I’ve become so desensitized over time that now, when I work, I can have 20 people behind me, and I don’t even know they’re there. I think that sometimes a model is the same way. She can be looking into a group of people and doesn’t even see anybody. When I first started taking pictures, I used to kick everybody out of the set. I’d be extremely influenced by people watching and now I don’t even feel it. So to go back to that all of a sudden was so good, man. It was so beautiful. It reminded me how much more special it is when it’s just you and your subject, you and the model. It’s just complete intimacy, nothing and no one else to interrupt that communication, that sharing, because you’re really sharing this experience, this process.

GO’B: – I think a lot of people don’t realize how a great model really works. It’s not just an object, sitting there like a piece of fruit on a table. There really is a lot of work involved, a lot of concentration and responsiveness.
MS: – There is a lot of emotion involved, and there’s a lot of give-and-take emotionally between the photographer and the model. The best models are the ones who can tap into that emotion, who day after day constantly give you that. Sometimes, you’re taking a picture of somebody and you’re communicating but you’re not using any words at all. You start mimicking them and they mimic you, and they look at your eyes and all of a sudden you’re communicating, and you don’t even know how things are happening. There’s an osmosis or something psychic happening. The best models are the ones that open themselves up to that.
That’s when the best work happens.

GO’B: – When you went out there, did you know you were going to mix color in with the black-and-white? The black-and-white is so dramatic.
MS: – It’s funny. The way I work usually, professionally, on a job, is that I always tend to think that everything has to look the same. There needs to be a consistent, constant language. When I did these pictures, even though it naturally has a language that’s coherent, I didn’t want the frame and the cropping of the images to be the same. I didn’t want them to be the same in black-and-white. I wanted some of them to be soft, some to have more contrast, some to be color. I did not want to force a specific style on to it. I just wanted the picture to be, and to exist on its own terms.

GO’B: – I think the format of the calendar is really superb. Do you want to comment on that?
MS: – I think that one of the interesting things about the calendar is actually the design of it. The fact is that Karl Lagerfeld had done this thing last year and it was something that I wanted to continue and to further somehow.

GO’B: – I thought the calendar was one of the best things he’s done as a photographer. Maybe it’s because I’m into Greek myth….
MS: – It’s funny. I don’t know a lot of Karl’s pictures. I’ve seen some of them on his walls, and I’m like, “Wow, that’s really beautiful. Did you take that picture?” I just thought that the way it was all presented would look really amazing. So somehow, I was really focused on it being that again, at least for me.

GO’B: – It’s beautifully designed. Was it your idea to make the calendar sort of interactive, that you can decide which picture to put with which month?
MS: – Originally, I wanted it just to be 12 pictures and I didn’t really care what girl was for what month. We asked ourselves how do we make an object that is at once a calendar and a portfolio. And the creative director came up with a solution, the interactive idea.

GO’B: – Well, the black matte gives it a really classical feel. It makes the pictures stand out.
MS: – It’s very classic. It is about the photographs and the photographs speak for themselves.

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