Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pirelli Calendar Classics: My 10 Favorite Years

From the 1996 Pirelli Calendar, shot by Peter Lindbergh
The Yankees are on the verge of elimination. The British government is slashing its budget. Clarence Thomas's wife has asked Anita Hill to apologize. Carl Paladino walked out of the New York gubernatorial debate early for an emergency bathroom break. Those are today's headlines. (And what a wonderful world we live in, yes?)

But here on the visual culture beat the news is all about the famous calendar that turned the pin-up into fine art. We now know that the 2011 Pirelli Calendar is being shot by fashion designer/photographer Karl Lagerfeld. Why is this important? Because the Pirelli Calendar is one of those bellweathers that supply us with information about current erotic tastes, notions of femininity, ideals of beauty, and whatnot. And because it's a showcase for the top fashion photographers in the world.

What does the choice of Lagerfeld mean? While he may not bring the sizzle the way Terry Richardson did in 2010, his calendar will be apparently be making some history; word is that he will include "three or four boys" among the lineup of models. (Actually, boys have appeared in past calendars, but maybe Lagerfeld will be featuring them in a new way.) In another break from many previous calendars, Lagerfeld reportedly shot not on an exotic beach, but in his Paris studio.

I thought this might be a reasonably opportune moment to pick my favorite editions. One note: I have excluded flagrantly explicit images in here, except when it was unavoidable. So technically this post isn't safe for the office. But of course that depends on your office. If nothing else, my list includes the names of some superb photographers whose names are not as well known among younger aficionados as they should be. So take a look: What do you think of my choices?

1. Francis Giacobetti, 1970

The Pirelli Calendar, first published in 1964, was conceived as a prestigious promotional device that was given out to Pirelli Tire dealerships: It was, essentially, your basic auto-garage pin-up calendar, but done with a degree of European refinement, shall we say. The early editions were sunny, simple, and relatively chaste (think of the "For Those Who Think  Young" Pepsi ads from the era). For me, the photography began to get interesting in 1970, when the French photographer Francis Giacobetti took the reins. Shooting on the beaches of the Bahamas, he mixed sand and bronzed skin to capture a new kind of sensuality; tactile, warm, more erotic than exploitive. Giacobetti's sophisticated pictures were a far, far cry from the girl-next-door pin-ups and Playboy centerfolds of the past. The calendar was a hit and he came back to shoot 1971 in Jamaica.

2. Sarah Moon, 1972

The official history of the Pirelli Calendar notes that the 1972 edition was the first to include topless images. Sarah Moon, a British fashion photographer, took over from Giacobetti and created a series of delicate, low-light images filled with chiffon, silk, and feminine intimacy. At this point the calendar had become as much about story-telling as sex. The pinup had become an erotic tale.

3. Hans Feurer, 1974

One of the great photographers of the era, and a remarkable photographer of women, Feurer is probably best known for his fashion work for British Vogue, Paris Vogue, and other magazines. His 1974 Pirelli Calendar images, shot in the Seychelle Islands, were deeply colored and richly exotic. This image, filled with reds, shadows, and promises, is for me the quintessential Pirelli image of the era—and a perfect example of 1970s Euro-sensuality. Feurer, by the way, is also known for mentoring a young French photographer named Patrick Demarchelier.

4. Uwe Ommer, 1984

After a long hiatus in which the calendar went dormant, it was revived in 1984 with a new art director and German photographer Uwe Ommer. The Reagan era was in full swing, and the imagery was brighter and more explicit, yet it was also taking the idea of the pinup in imaginative new directions. Ommer paid literal tribute to the company's product by stenciling tire marks over his models'  bodies.

5. Arthur Elgort, 1990

For this edition of the calendar, the great American fashion photographer Arthur Elgort indulged in myth-making as he paid tribute to the the ancient Olympic games. He immortalized his woman athletes, turning them into sculptural artworks. Throughout the much of the following decade other photographers would continue to create Pirelli calendars based on literary themes.

6. Richard Avedon, 1994

Case in point: Avedon took three models—Nadia Auermann, Farrah Summerford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington—and created his own version of the four seasons. The result was brilliant. The frosty blonde Auermann became the avatar of Winter. The photo here depicted the month of February, for instance. Thankfully, 1994 was a leap year and we could look at her for an extra day.

 7. Peter Lindbergh, 1996

Is it my favorite Pirelli year of all? Possibly. Lindergh shot in in the California desert, scene of many a fashion layout during the era, and pulled the curtain back to reveal the artifice that was at the heart of his narrative. This image featured model Eva Herzigova.

8. Herb Ritts, 1999

After seeing the Pirelli calendar spin off in so many different directions, Ritts took the pin-up back to traditional roots. On the beach in Los Angeles, he shot this photograph of model Laetitia Casta in a 1950s pose; the image, however, is entirely modern in its winking reference to the past.

9. Annie Leibovitz, 2000

In muted tones of creamy white and delicate blue, Leibovitz offered a study of the female form that focused intently on rich textures of skin. These were pictures you felt as much as saw.

10. Bruce Weber, 2003

Weber created what may be the calendar's happiest year, a romp filled with Italian beaches, villas, and vespas. He captured another kind of immortality, the kind he specializes in: youthful beauty. Heidi Klum, a big straw hat, and a wide smile. It's all there.