Sante D’Orazio Remembers!

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Published December 2, 2009

In the early 1980s, Andy Warhol gave Sante D’Orazio his first assignment for an American magazine (this one), right around the time the then-budding fashion photographer started making his diaries. “I started [making them] because back then I had to be my own accountant, my own lawyer, my own producer and I wasn’t going to remember how many rolls of film I shot that day. Even back then I didn’t have a memory,” says D’Orazio of his process, which references the infamous style of the diaries kept by his great friend and mentor Peter Beard. “Then I hated the empty pages so I’d just fill them in with the things I did that day, the label of a wine bottle I had at dinner or matches from the restaurant. It became my daily meditation when I ended my day, my transition from my workday to my so-called home life.”

In 1998 he turned these meditations into his first book, A Private View, a behind-the-scenes look into the frenzy that is the fashion world and the attendant celebrities who make it sparkle. Now he’s back with the follow-up, Barely Private, which launched last night at New York’s Taschen bookstore. I spoke with him before the source material for yet another bawdy diary descended. Whether it’s the witty marginalia of late nights at the Rose Bar with Jack White and Warren Beatty, a funny snapshot of Larry Gagosian parading around in a mask in St. Barth’s, or a decade’s worth of self-portraits ,the book is a wild romp through the life of a truly indefatigable jetsetter who’s revealing more and more of himself these days.

“It’s a self-portrait. The first one was a little more decorative in the sense that you have supermodels, this and that. I don’t want to use the word careful, but in comparison it’s a tiny bit more careful,” says D’Orazio. “This book is where I make girls who are not supermodels look just as good if not better.” Or as Ed Rusha puts in his pithy intro, “His pictures are remarkably free of staging tactics…he makes cleavage growl like a dog.”

MICHAEL SLENSKE: Have you always been doing journals like this?

SANTE D’ORAZIO: I’ve been doing them since ’81. I was in Milan and somebody gave me a Trussardi diary and I thought “Genius.” Inside I put the Polaroids, how much film I shot, who I shot with. This way for billing later on I had all the information.

SLENSKE: So it’s almost for your own record?

D’ORAZIO: Yeah, and every day became a note because I either edited that day or shot that day or met so-and-so. It developed out of necessity, and then it became total addiction and habit.SLENSKE: Did you always have this book in mind after A Private View?

D’ORAZIO: You know, after the first book I had 10 times the material still left from the first one. I don’t want to repeat myself but 12 years later you just say, “Fuck, yeah.” That’s why the first one’s called A Private View and this one’s called Barely Private because I exposed even more.

SLENSKE: Then there are those quiet moments with Larry Gagosian in a mask. It’s one of those photos you never think you’d see.

D’ORAZIO: [LAUGHS] He still doesn’t know it happened. I’ll be getting phone calls. I don’t give a fuck. You only live once, we’re all going, and I’m going to leave a record.

SLENSKE: Is there a theme you’re trying to hit?

D’ORAZIO: There’s no theme, it’s life. I barely remember a night, but then I do when I look back at the Polaroids. “Did I do that? I did. Oh shit, I’m glad, I wish I could remember.” It’s a self-portrait. If you could remember all the moments in the last 10 years you’d highlight this one, this one and this one. Same thing.

SLENSKE: Was there anything you had to cut that you regret?

D’ORAZIO: There are a few. [His 15 year-old son walks in the room] This is my son, Nick. You got to get to a point in life where you really don’t care anymore: Everything gets contrived when you care too much. One of my dearest friends is Peter Beard, and I don’t want to hang out with him because he’s crazier than anyone I know Peter’s so out of control but his diaries are the most genius because you see how little he cares and how in the carelessness there’s genius.

Look, when Nick was three years old I drove him over to Peter’s house in Montauk, and on the way over I said, “What the fuck am I doing bringing my three year old to Peter’s?” He’s liable to drop him off the cliff or something. We went there and Peter was happy to see us. He had a beer in his hand, but he couldn’t find an opener so he smashed it against the table and started drinking. Then he grabs Nick by the side to take him for a walk, and the bottle cuts my son’s eye. And I just thought how much shit I was going to get for this. But I got the pictures.