Furthur

Mario Sorrenti discusses the trip that produced his amazing story in LP02.

Interviewer: So, let’s start with how it came about.

Mario Sorrenti: Stussy. [The photos] were shot for Stussy. He came up to us and wanted me to shoot a campaign for them.

Interviewer: [Indecipherable]

Mario Sorrenti: Yep. And I told him I couldn’t do it because I was driving across America and I was doing a trip with Frank, and we were working on our road trip photographs.

Interviewer: And what year was this?

Mario Sorrenti: Oh, god. Um. It must have been like ’94-’95 – something like that.

Interviewer: Right.

Mario Sorrenti: And he was like, “Great! Do them while you’re on the road.” So we went to his factory in L.A. with a van. We loaded up the back of the van with clothes, ‘cuz we were gonna pay the kids [in clothes]. So we loaded up the back of the van with tons of clothes and shit and camera equipment and we went on the road.

Interviewer: And that was you and Frank?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And we just, like, took tons of mushrooms and weed and stuff and whatever. And we just ended up going to strip clubs and concerts and stuff like that. [Laughs] And meeting kids and just being like, “Hey, can we take your picture?” Whoever we thought was cool. We broke down at a gas station and the guy who brought us all the replacement parts for the car was this crazy-looking dude and we took his picture. And we met some kids who were touring with the Grateful Dead. And we were like, “Oh can we take your picture?” And we would just give them the clothes and they would be like “Oh these are so great, can we get some more clothes?” And we’d be like, “Well, we kinda need them… but what’d you got?” [Laughs] So we just ended up trading and you know, whatever we could get for the clothes. We did tons of pictures, tons, tons. And then when we were finished with the road trip we went to see Shawn [Stussy] and we showed him and he was like, “These are terrible.” [Laughs]

Interviewer: What was he expecting?

Mario Sorrenti: I have no idea what he was expecting. But he was like, “Who are these fucking kids?” They’re all these scallywags, fucking weird homeless kids and shit. And I was like, “Listen, we told you what we were doing. This is amazing, they’re all wearing your clothes, dude! These are the real kids in America.” And he just never ran any of the pictures, so… [trails off]. Which was totally fine. [Laughs]

Interviewer: And so what happened, they just sat [indecipherable].

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, I guess they’ve been sitting in a box from ’94 to 2014. 20 years. That’s crazy. And Jade was like, “Remember those pictures you did for Stussy, do you mind if we publish some of them?” And I was like, “Yeah, why not. That would be cool.” And so she went through all of them, I was like, “You edit them. I can’t go through them.”

Interviewer: But you were doing a bunch of road trips with Frank at the time, right? Or was this the first?

Mario Sorrenti: No, this was like maybe the third. We did five road trips. Or more, considering some of the little ones we did.

Interviewer: And how did it work with Frank? What was he doing? Driving?

Mario Sorrenti: Nah, we would alternate! I mean he would drive most of the way. But we’d go back and forth. I took pictures, I didn’t do a lot of talking. I’m not a talker, I’m not a super social person.

Interviewer: Particularly when you’re stoned.

Mario Sorrenti: Exactly! [Laughs]

Interviewer: Which was most of the time.

Mario Sorrenti: Mostly just giggling the whole fucking time, with my head buried in my camera. Frank is chatting everybody up. We went to Lollapalooza, he had fucking phone numbers on everything he could write on – on his hands, on his arms, on little fucking matchbooks, on coasters, on whatever. I mean, we’d just call [people] up and be like, “Yo, what’s up, can we come and check you out?” And we’d go and hang out with them and trip with them and take pictures, and then you know, we’d go to strip clubs and Frank would chat up all the strippers and get them all to come back to the hotel or motel and shit, and we’d go crazy and take more pictures.

Interviewer: So where did you go on this trip? What was the actual journey?

Mario Sorrenti: We started in L.A. and we drove back to New York. And our first stop we had to go to Lollapalooza in… Ohio? Or Oklahoma? We fucking drove all the way in two days across America. And we burnt out the truck along the way.

Interviewer: That’s how you broke down?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah.

Interviewer: People don’t break down anymore. That was the way you discovered America.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah.

Interviewer: At least for me.

Mario Sorrenti: No, that’s how it was. You’d break down, land in some shitty little town. All these kids would come out of the woodwork, and we’d start taking pictures. And they’d be like, “Hello!” And then a kid would drive off and pick up four more kids and then bring them to where we were.

Interviewer: And what were you looking at before this? I remember talking to you a lot about Robert Frank and Larry Clark…

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. I mean I was, at the time, 23 years old… and my influences were like, Larry Clark, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann. All of them, for me, had little aspects that I found really inspiring and interesting. Either it was the quality of the black and white or the trips [they were taking] or the friends…

Interviewer: Or the celebration of ordinary people.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And the gays. It was all captured in people’s eyes. So for me, being out on the road was kind of getting to see all the stuff that I saw in those photographs. But it was also a way for me to discover myself. You know, I was young, I wanted to figure out who the fuck I was in the world.

Interviewer: And you do that in relation to other people.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And through experiences and stuff. And trips. [Laughs] There was a lot of tripping, and a lot of discovering because of that. And a lot of experimentation.

Interviewer: How much did the drugs color the vision?

Mario Sorrenti: A lot. Because a lot of the pictures are really blurry and out of focus. [Laughs] And the majority of the kids we were photographing were all into the same thing. And that’s kind of the thing that brought us together, ‘cuz we would party and hang out at night and have these amazing trips.

Interviewer: And that connection becomes the photograph.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, that’s what we were into. That was our time. That was when grunge music was at it’s peak, and independent films, that’s when Robert Frank and Larry Clark, in my opinion, were huge –

Interviewer: They were revolutionizing the scene.

Mario Sorrenti: They were coming back into the scene. I mean, they were already super huge art photographers but, at that time, they were really back in fashion all of the sudden. I mean obviously they were doing their work and shooting photos in the 70s. But I was taking all of these things in, living them and experiencing them, and I believed in them. To me, when Shawn [Stussy] said to me, “Who the fuck are these kids?” I was like, “What do you mean who the fuck are these kids? You’re fucking so lucky to get the real deal here. These are not some posers on a fucking beach, with their shades on. This is like the real shit.”

Interviewer: And in terms of fashion culture, that was a pivotal moment. People were switching away from this idea of [professional] models. [Real people] and real circumstances were being introduced.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, but [Shawn] didn’t get it. He didn’t get that he was receiving the real thing that was inspiring us all at that time. You know, all the young photographers were coming out and making a mark on fashion. I was going out and taking all these pictures of kids across America, and that was really the essence of what was inspiring us.

Interviewer: Right, but it wasn’t until a few years later that it started to leech into magazines. I mean, it took a while for editorial to catch up to what you guys were doing.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, and it was always polished over anyway. You always got like, Linda Evangelista posing like some kid from the midwest. People never realized that.

Interviewer: It was always quoted in some way.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And I mean, for me, that was the hugest education because what I was seeing was these kids and their experiences and what they were doing and what they were getting up to. And when I had to go back to work, I had that knowledge and I’d take those experiences and put Nadja Auermann in that pose.

Interviewer: Yeah I was gonna ask, what do you take out of that trip? [Considering] these kinds of trips have become a staple of what you do now…

Mario Sorrenti: Well, that’s what we did. That’s what Frank and I did – we went out, we absorbed, we learned about culture in America and what was happening with the kids and what it was all about, and we brought it into fashion. And we kind of just oozed it out into our pictures that we did with models, or you know, when we did portraits of musicians, or actors and actresses. We just took our experience, our story, and the vibe that we lived and put it into [a story]. And what does [any of that] do for me today? I don’t know. [Laughs]

Interviewer: Given what was going on in music and everything, why was fashion, at that time, so out of sync with what was shaping the rest of the world and our sensibilities? Because it took a while for it to catch up, and there was a lot of resistance.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. Because it was not polished, you know what I mean? The resistance was because fashion is ultimately about beauty, and selling clothes, and all of that. And there’s a polished sort of dreamy quality about it. What’s the word? It’s like a heightened reality or something. So people resisted seeing the real thing. There were only a few people that really got it, I think, and slowly allowed it to fuse into fashion. But it took a while before that could happen.

Interviewer: Because beauty and realism were at odds?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. Totally. Before that, there was the beauty of health and fitness, you know, with Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson jumping on the beach and stuff. And then all of the sudden you’ve got a little scrawny kid fucking tripping on the beach. [Laughs] It took a long time to say like, we don’t believe in that. That it was total bullshit. That’s somebody’s reality that’s totally unreal, and this is more like reality.

Interviewer: It baffles me that there was so much resistance at the time from within the fashion world.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. I was constantly getting beat up. It was weird, because I was getting negative feedback a lot of the time, but at the same time, positive feedback as well. It was this up and down, up and down. I think the people that were really cultured [about photography], they got it. They understood it and saw where it was coming from and saw the references. But there’s only a few sophisticated people in fashion. [Laughs] Ultimately, if it’s not Avedon or Helmut Newton then… you know what I mean? There were some people that got it. That was the work that I was doing and I became successful from it, so… it kind of did catch on at the end. But then it got twisted and it turned into this weird heroin-chic thing.

Interviewer: Yeah, it took on some other life; a whole “broken beauty” thing.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, it was weird.

Interviewer: These pictures don’t seem to have anything to do with that idea of “broken beauty”.

Mario Sorrenti: No, it was never really about that. I think it kind of somehow became that at some point, because people reinterpreted it as such. They were always trying to attach negative connotations to the photographs. Even when I did the picture of Kate [Moss] on the couch, it was [called] anorexic, pedophilic.

Interviewer: Right. Every major pejorative.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. They didn’t see the beauty in the realism, or the real people [behind the photos] – it wasn’t Cindy Crawford naked on the couch, it was Kate Moss naked on the couch. And she was not anorexic, and she was not on drugs.

Interviewer: You came back from these trips with contact sheets, so no one ever saw this stuff? Do you think 20 years later people will recognize themselves?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, I was thinking about that, and kind of shitting my pants, actually. [Laughs] I don’t know. There are a lot of little kids in these photos and I was actually wondering if I should put them in or not. ‘Cuz today they’d be like, 28. I don’t even know. Basically we had the van, we’d set up this like, canvas either on the wall or on the back of the van. And literally, I’d take a picture of somebody and more people would start showing up. “Oh, can you take my picture?” And I’d be like, “Yeah! Just get in, let me take your picture.” And there was a lot of freedom like that, it was beautiful. You know, we didn’t have this social media connection that we have today. I think what was really interesting about this time was that the Internet didn’t exist.

Interviewer: People were much more available for direct experiences.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah! I mean the only thing that connected us young kids at that time was MTV. There was a counter culture thing that we could all relate to, through music. I don’t know where any of these people are.

Interviewer: I remember seeing some of these [photos], when you came back. Seems like you’re having a good time.

Mario Sorrenti: [Laughs] The first trip we did was on a Greyhound bus, and it was because Frank was moving out to L.A. We had just graduated from high school, I think it was the second year out of high school or something – I was 19 years old. And I said, “Okay, I’ll get on a Greyhound bus with you and I’ll take you across to L.A. and then I’m going to split and go to Europe and stuff.” And I took my camera, and for like 7 days we were on a Greyhound bus, and stopped in Oklahoma. And in Oklahoma we managed to score a bunch of mushrooms, and we tripped all the way from Oklahoma to L.A. [Laughs]

Interviewer: On the bus?

Mario Sorrenti: On the bus. And I photographed the whole thing, and Frank shot some Super 8 film. And that was our first experience. So when I was 20 and I started working as a photographer, Frank was the first person I called. He was still in L.A. and I was like, “Yo, what are you doing? I need an assistant, I need someone to travel with.” And he was like, “Okay. I’m in L.A. Come and pick me up in L.A. and we’ll drive back to New York.” And I was like, “Dope. Great.” So I flew out to L.A., we stocked up the van with mushrooms and weed –

Interviewer: Was that [for an] assignment?

Mario Sorrenti: No. That was just us connecting. And that was the first trip – we drove across America in like a week and a half. I think I had a shoot to do in New York so we were really gunning it. And then we were like, “We’ve gotta do this every summer.” For four years after that, we would rent a van, stock it up with film and whatever, and then just drive. We’d be on the road for a month at a time, just taking pictures.

Interviewer: It’s hard to imagine people doing that now. Because of the connectivity. There’s no point going on a road trip if it’s all there, right in front of you [online].

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. We were connected on another level. [Laughs]

Interviewer: On a psychic, astral level. [Laughs]

Mario Sorrenti: We had this weird thing where we would follow this chain of motels or gas stations that had these poles with hearts on top that would float in the sky.  So every time we saw one of those we were like, “Okay, just follow the heart.” [Laughs] You know? And it really worked! It really hooked us up, man – it lead us to amazing, amazing places.

[Looking at photos]

Mario Sorrenti: This is from this night where we ran out of gas, I mean, we were tripping all the time, and we ran out of gas and it was midnight, foggy. We were like 100 yards away from a gas station, we got so lucky. And we went and got gas, and in the gas station we met these girls, and we were like, “Oh, let’s get a motel.” So we got a motel and hung out, and some guy knocks on the door because we had some beers outside the door cooling off, and the guy knocks and he’s like, “Yo man! I’ll trade you some weed for some of your beers and shit.” And we were like, “Alright, cool.” So they come into the room and the next thing you know we’ve got a party going on.

Interviewer: He looks like he’s straight out of Tulsa.

Mario Sorrenti: Right?! That dude looked like he just got out of jail, I was like, “Yo…” And then we basically hit every single strip club across America. [Laughs] And just, you know, met people, took pictures.

Interviewer: That’s one way of conducting your social life.

Mario Sorrenti: Here’s Chicken Ranch [a brothel in Pahrump, Nevada]. I’m sure you’ve been there.

Interviewer: I’ve got a lifetime membership. [Laughs]

Mario Sorrenti: And then we became friends with a lot of the kids, and we’d go back and visit them.

Interviewer: On subsequent trips?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, totally. Her name… Sonia. And I think her name was Michelle. We’d just go back and see them and stuff, and hook up. They were amazing, beautiful kids. Super cool.

Interviewer: What’s cool about the pictures is that there’s a weird combination of knowledge and innocence, to them. Or freedom and knowingness.

Mario Sorrenti: There is a lot of freedom. These were the guys that were like, “Yo, man! I’ll give you some weed for some beer!” He was like, “My brother just got back from this Metallica concert, man, there were like flames and shit.” And then we’d be in the middle of the desert and run into a family like this, in a little station wagon somewhere. In the middle of nowhere. This is real America, this isn’t New York City or L.A.

Interviewer: That’s what it was about, real America.

Mario Sorrenti: Yep.

Interviewer: So, let’s start with how it came about.

Mario Sorrenti: Stussy. [The photos] were shot for Stussy. He came up to us and wanted me to shoot a campaign for them.

Interviewer: [Indecipherable]

Mario Sorrenti: Yep. And I told him I couldn’t do it because I was driving across America and I was doing a trip with Frank, and we were working on our road trip photographs.

Interviewer: And what year was this?

Mario Sorrenti: Oh, god. Um. It must have been like ’94-’95 – something like that.

Interviewer: Right.

Mario Sorrenti: And he was like, “Great! Do them while you’re on the road.” So we went to his factory in L.A. with a van. We loaded up the back of the van with clothes, ‘cuz we were gonna pay the kids [in clothes]. So we loaded up the back of the van with tons of clothes and shit and camera equipment and we went on the road.

Interviewer: And that was you and Frank?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And we just, like, took tons of mushrooms and weed and stuff and whatever. And we just ended up going to strip clubs and concerts and stuff like that. [Laughs] And meeting kids and just being like, “Hey, can we take your picture?” Whoever we thought was cool. We broke down at a gas station and the guy who brought us all the replacement parts for the car was this crazy-looking dude and we took his picture. And we met some kids who were touring with the Grateful Dead. And we were like, “Oh can we take your picture?” And we would just give them the clothes and they would be like “Oh these are so great, can we get some more clothes?” And we’d be like, “Well, we kinda need them… but what’d you got?” [Laughs] So we just ended up trading and you know, whatever we could get for the clothes. We did tons of pictures, tons, tons. And then when we were finished with the road trip we went to see Shawn [Stussy] and we showed him and he was like, “These are terrible.” [Laughs]

Interviewer: What was he expecting?

Mario Sorrenti: I have no idea what he was expecting. But he was like, “Who are these fucking kids?” They’re all these scallywags, fucking weird homeless kids and shit. And I was like, “Listen, we told you what we were doing. This is amazing, they’re all wearing your clothes, dude! These are the real kids in America.” And he just never ran any of the pictures, so… [trails off]. Which was totally fine. [Laughs]

Interviewer: And so what happened, they just sat [indecipherable].

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, I guess they’ve been sitting in a box from ’94 to 2014. 20 years. That’s crazy. And Jade was like, “Remember those pictures you did for Stussy, do you mind if we publish some of them?” And I was like, “Yeah, why not. That would be cool.” And so she went through all of them, I was like, “You edit them. I can’t go through them.”

Interviewer: But you were doing a bunch of road trips with Frank at the time, right? Or was this the first?

Mario Sorrenti: No, this was like maybe the third. We did five road trips. Or more, considering some of the little ones we did.

Interviewer: And how did it work with Frank? What was he doing? Driving?

Mario Sorrenti: Nah, we would alternate! I mean he would drive most of the way. But we’d go back and forth. I took pictures, I didn’t do a lot of talking. I’m not a talker, I’m not a super social person.

Interviewer: Particularly when you’re stoned.

Mario Sorrenti: Exactly! [Laughs]

Interviewer: Which was most of the time.

Mario Sorrenti: Mostly just giggling the whole fucking time, with my head buried in my camera. Frank is chatting everybody up. We went to Lollapalooza, he had fucking phone numbers on everything he could write on – on his hands, on his arms, on little fucking matchbooks, on coasters, on whatever. I mean, we’d just call [people] up and be like, “Yo, what’s up, can we come and check you out?” And we’d go and hang out with them and trip with them and take pictures, and then you know, we’d go to strip clubs and Frank would chat up all the strippers and get them all to come back to the hotel or motel and shit, and we’d go crazy and take more pictures.

Interviewer: So where did you go on this trip? What was the actual journey?

Mario Sorrenti: We started in L.A. and we drove back to New York. And our first stop we had to go to Lollapalooza in… Ohio? Or Oklahoma? We fucking drove all the way in two days across America. And we burnt out the truck along the way.

Interviewer: That’s how you broke down?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah.

Interviewer: People don’t break down anymore. That was the way you discovered America.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah.

Interviewer: At least for me.

Mario Sorrenti: No, that’s how it was. You’d break down, land in some shitty little town. All these kids would come out of the woodwork, and we’d start taking pictures. And they’d be like, “Hello!” And then a kid would drive off and pick up four more kids and then bring them to where we were.

Interviewer: And what were you looking at before this? I remember talking to you a lot about Robert Frank and Larry Clark…

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. I mean I was, at the time, 23 years old… and my influences were like, Larry Clark, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann. All of them, for me, had little aspects that I found really inspiring and interesting. Either it was the quality of the black and white or the trips [they were taking] or the friends…

Interviewer: Or the celebration of ordinary people.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And the gays. It was all captured in people’s eyes. So for me, being out on the road was kind of getting to see all the stuff that I saw in those photographs. But it was also a way for me to discover myself. You know, I was young, I wanted to figure out who the fuck I was in the world.

Interviewer: And you do that in relation to other people.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And through experiences and stuff. And trips. [Laughs] There was a lot of tripping, and a lot of discovering because of that. And a lot of experimentation.

Interviewer: How much did the drugs color the vision?

Mario Sorrenti: A lot. Because a lot of the pictures are really blurry and out of focus. [Laughs] And the majority of the kids we were photographing were all into the same thing. And that’s kind of the thing that brought us together, ‘cuz we would party and hang out at night and have these amazing trips.

Interviewer: And that connection becomes the photograph.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, that’s what we were into. That was our time. That was when grunge music was at it’s peak, and independent films, that’s when Robert Frank and Larry Clark, in my opinion, were huge –

Interviewer: They were revolutionizing the scene.

Mario Sorrenti: They were coming back into the scene. I mean, they were already super huge art photographers but, at that time, they were really back in fashion all of the sudden. I mean obviously they were doing their work and shooting photos in the 70s. But I was taking all of these things in, living them and experiencing them, and I believed in them. To me, when Shawn [Stussy] said to me, “Who the fuck are these kids?” I was like, “What do you mean who the fuck are these kids? You’re fucking so lucky to get the real deal here. These are not some posers on a fucking beach, with their shades on. This is like the real shit.”

Interviewer: And in terms of fashion culture, that was a pivotal moment. People were switching away from this idea of [professional] models. [Real people] and real circumstances were being introduced.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, but [Shawn] didn’t get it. He didn’t get that he was receiving the real thing that was inspiring us all at that time. You know, all the young photographers were coming out and making a mark on fashion. I was going out and taking all these pictures of kids across America, and that was really the essence of what was inspiring us.

Interviewer: Right, but it wasn’t until a few years later that it started to leech into magazines. I mean, it took a while for editorial to catch up to what you guys were doing.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, and it was always polished over anyway. You always got like, Linda Evangelista posing like some kid from the midwest. People never realized that.

Interviewer: It was always quoted in some way.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. And I mean, for me, that was the hugest education because what I was seeing was these kids and their experiences and what they were doing and what they were getting up to. And when I had to go back to work, I had that knowledge and I’d take those experiences and put Nadja Auermann in that pose.

Interviewer: Yeah I was gonna ask, what do you take out of that trip? [Considering] these kinds of trips have become a staple of what you do now…

Mario Sorrenti: Well, that’s what we did. That’s what Frank and I did – we went out, we absorbed, we learned about culture in America and what was happening with the kids and what it was all about, and we brought it into fashion. And we kind of just oozed it out into our pictures that we did with models, or you know, when we did portraits of musicians, or actors and actresses. We just took our experience, our story, and the vibe that we lived and put it into [a story]. And what does [any of that] do for me today? I don’t know. [Laughs]

Interviewer: Given what was going on in music and everything, why was fashion, at that time, so out of sync with what was shaping the rest of the world and our sensibilities? Because it took a while for it to catch up, and there was a lot of resistance.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. Because it was not polished, you know what I mean? The resistance was because fashion is ultimately about beauty, and selling clothes, and all of that. And there’s a polished sort of dreamy quality about it. What’s the word? It’s like a heightened reality or something. So people resisted seeing the real thing. There were only a few people that really got it, I think, and slowly allowed it to fuse into fashion. But it took a while before that could happen.

Interviewer: Because beauty and realism were at odds?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. Totally. Before that, there was the beauty of health and fitness, you know, with Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson jumping on the beach and stuff. And then all of the sudden you’ve got a little scrawny kid fucking tripping on the beach. [Laughs] It took a long time to say like, we don’t believe in that. That it was total bullshit. That’s somebody’s reality that’s totally unreal, and this is more like reality.

Interviewer: It baffles me that there was so much resistance at the time from within the fashion world.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. I was constantly getting beat up. It was weird, because I was getting negative feedback a lot of the time, but at the same time, positive feedback as well. It was this up and down, up and down. I think the people that were really cultured [about photography], they got it. They understood it and saw where it was coming from and saw the references. But there’s only a few sophisticated people in fashion. [Laughs] Ultimately, if it’s not Avedon or Helmut Newton then… you know what I mean? There were some people that got it. That was the work that I was doing and I became successful from it, so… it kind of did catch on at the end. But then it got twisted and it turned into this weird heroin-chic thing.

Interviewer: Yeah, it took on some other life; a whole “broken beauty” thing.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, it was weird.

Interviewer: These pictures don’t seem to have anything to do with that idea of “broken beauty”.

Mario Sorrenti: No, it was never really about that. I think it kind of somehow became that at some point, because people reinterpreted it as such. They were always trying to attach negative connotations to the photographs. Even when I did the picture of Kate [Moss] on the couch, it was [called] anorexic, pedophilic.

Interviewer: Right. Every major pejorative.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. They didn’t see the beauty in the realism, or the real people [behind the photos] – it wasn’t Cindy Crawford naked on the couch, it was Kate Moss naked on the couch. And she was not anorexic, and she was not on drugs.

Interviewer: You came back from these trips with contact sheets, so no one ever saw this stuff? Do you think 20 years later people will recognize themselves?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, I was thinking about that, and kind of shitting my pants, actually. [Laughs] I don’t know. There are a lot of little kids in these photos and I was actually wondering if I should put them in or not. ‘Cuz today they’d be like, 28. I don’t even know. Basically we had the van, we’d set up this like, canvas either on the wall or on the back of the van. And literally, I’d take a picture of somebody and more people would start showing up. “Oh, can you take my picture?” And I’d be like, “Yeah! Just get in, let me take your picture.” And there was a lot of freedom like that, it was beautiful. You know, we didn’t have this social media connection that we have today. I think what was really interesting about this time was that the Internet didn’t exist.

Interviewer: People were much more available for direct experiences.

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah! I mean the only thing that connected us young kids at that time was MTV. There was a counter culture thing that we could all relate to, through music. I don’t know where any of these people are.

Interviewer: I remember seeing some of these [photos], when you came back. Seems like you’re having a good time.

Mario Sorrenti: [Laughs] The first trip we did was on a Greyhound bus, and it was because Frank was moving out to L.A. We had just graduated from high school, I think it was the second year out of high school or something – I was 19 years old. And I said, “Okay, I’ll get on a Greyhound bus with you and I’ll take you across to L.A. and then I’m going to split and go to Europe and stuff.” And I took my camera, and for like 7 days we were on a Greyhound bus, and stopped in Oklahoma. And in Oklahoma we managed to score a bunch of mushrooms, and we tripped all the way from Oklahoma to L.A. [Laughs]

Interviewer: On the bus?

Mario Sorrenti: On the bus. And I photographed the whole thing, and Frank shot some Super 8 film. And that was our first experience. So when I was 20 and I started working as a photographer, Frank was the first person I called. He was still in L.A. and I was like, “Yo, what are you doing? I need an assistant, I need someone to travel with.” And he was like, “Okay. I’m in L.A. Come and pick me up in L.A. and we’ll drive back to New York.” And I was like, “Dope. Great.” So I flew out to L.A., we stocked up the van with mushrooms and weed –

Interviewer: Was that [for an] assignment?

Mario Sorrenti: No. That was just us connecting. And that was the first trip – we drove across America in like a week and a half. I think I had a shoot to do in New York so we were really gunning it. And then we were like, “We’ve gotta do this every summer.” For four years after that, we would rent a van, stock it up with film and whatever, and then just drive. We’d be on the road for a month at a time, just taking pictures.

Interviewer: It’s hard to imagine people doing that now. Because of the connectivity. There’s no point going on a road trip if it’s all there, right in front of you [online].

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah. We were connected on another level. [Laughs]

Interviewer: On a psychic, astral level. [Laughs]

Mario Sorrenti: We had this weird thing where we would follow this chain of motels or gas stations that had these poles with hearts on top that would float in the sky.  So every time we saw one of those we were like, “Okay, just follow the heart.” [Laughs] You know? And it really worked! It really hooked us up, man – it lead us to amazing, amazing places.

[Looking at photos]

Mario Sorrenti: This is from this night where we ran out of gas, I mean, we were tripping all the time, and we ran out of gas and it was midnight, foggy. We were like 100 yards away from a gas station, we got so lucky. And we went and got gas, and in the gas station we met these girls, and we were like, “Oh, let’s get a motel.” So we got a motel and hung out, and some guy knocks on the door because we had some beers outside the door cooling off, and the guy knocks and he’s like, “Yo man! I’ll trade you some weed for some of your beers and shit.” And we were like, “Alright, cool.” So they come into the room and the next thing you know we’ve got a party going on.

Interviewer: He looks like he’s straight out of Tulsa.

Mario Sorrenti: Right?! That dude looked like he just got out of jail, I was like, “Yo…” And then we basically hit every single strip club across America. [Laughs] And just, you know, met people, took pictures.

Interviewer: That’s one way of conducting your social life.

Mario Sorrenti: Here’s Chicken Ranch [a brothel in Pahrump, Nevada]. I’m sure you’ve been there.

Interviewer: I’ve got a lifetime membership. [Laughs]

Mario Sorrenti: And then we became friends with a lot of the kids, and we’d go back and visit them.

Interviewer: On subsequent trips?

Mario Sorrenti: Yeah, totally. Her name… Sonia. And I think her name was Michelle. We’d just go back and see them and stuff, and hook up. They were amazing, beautiful kids. Super cool.

Interviewer: What’s cool about the pictures is that there’s a weird combination of knowledge and innocence, to them. Or freedom and knowingness.

Mario Sorrenti: There is a lot of freedom. These were the guys that were like, “Yo, man! I’ll give you some weed for some beer!” He was like, “My brother just got back from this Metallica concert, man, there were like flames and shit.” And then we’d be in the middle of the desert and run into a family like this, in a little station wagon somewhere. In the middle of nowhere. This is real America, this isn’t New York City or L.A.

Interviewer: That’s what it was about, real America.

Mario Sorrenti: Yep.