The Pirelli Calendar has established a legendary image across the globe. The 2019 Pirelli ‘Cal’ created by Albert Watson continues a tradition born in 1964. Over five decades established photographers and models and celebrities featured in what was conceived as a marketing present for clients of Pirelli UK.
Interestingly enough the annual publication of a Pirelli calendar was not always a given. Between 1964 and 2018 only 45 calendars have been published. In 1967 Pirelli UK decided not to publish one but soon regret the decision as dealers complaint they did not receive a calendar. A few years later the Yom Kippur war and the oil crisis made the 1974 edition the last calendar for a decade. In 1984 the calendar returned with a more direct approach to product promotion featuring Pirelli products in the calendar for the first time.
The 80’s saw daring photographers try new things like Terence Donovan who featured only black models in the 1986 calendar, which included a 16 year old Naomi Campbell at the start of her career. In 1987 Barry Lategan included a male model for the first time in this traditional showcase of female beauty. In 1990 Arthur Elgort produced the first Pirelli Calendar all in black and white, devoted to the Olympics and the German film director Leni Riefenstahl.
This year Albert Watson combined key elements first introduced in the 80s with a movie style approach. Breaking the calendar down in four scenes with four key protagonists who all portrait their dreams. Using an international cast including male and female models and black and white pictures Watson was eager to combine his specific style with something new to add to the Pirelli Calendar as well as his own repertoire. In line with his movie style approach he opted to shoot all photos in 16:9, very unusual for a photographer that gained fame for portrait photography.
76-year old Watson created hundreds of iconic photos and countless magazine covers. His photographs have appeared on more than 100 covers of Vogue worldwide and he produced several Hollywood movie posters – the world of film also being a passion of Watson which clearly provided inspiration for the 2019 Pirelli Calendar. Interestingly enough Pirelli already asked Watson to create the calendar in the 1990s but as the calendar was going through a transformation from Pirelli UK to the Pirelli headquarters in Italy and changed expectations Watson turned Pirelli down.
This time round Watson was less reserved and gladly accepted the invitation to create the 2019 Pirelli Cal. 8 months went by from the first contact until the shoot in Miami and New York. Watson is known for his meticulous planning and this time was no exception. Considerable time during these eight months were spent on creating the concept, drawing 24 storyboards and fine tuning each of the scenes. When the models arrived all they had to do was step in and pose for the camera.
Talking about models; Watson chose four main protagonists for his four scenes which all display the dreams of the four models. IT-girl Gigi Hadid plays a girl who just separated and thinks about life and her future. Alexander Wang being the only friend she can talk to in her lonely New York apartment. Actress Julia Garner dreams about being a successful photographer. Pictured solo as well as while photographing Astrid Eika. Ballet dancer Misty Copeland dreams of a professional ballet career together with her partner Calvin Royal III. Last but not least model Laetitia Casta plays an artist who lives together with Sergei Polunin, a dancer both in real life as in the scenes created by Watson.
8 months of preparation ended with four days of shooting, roughly one for each scene. A very stressful four days considering this year’s calendar consists of significantly more than 12 images; instead Watson created nearly one photo for each calendar week brought together in a display case rather than a typical calendar.
When asked about the most challenging photo of them all Watson answered: “the scenario at the pond in Miami with Julia Garner. The light was not ideal and the fog and rain machine increased the overall complexity. I strived to keep a certain level of simplicity but I still made it more difficult for myself than needed to be.” Julia Garner was blown out of the water by the result; which she saw only for the first time a few days ago adding: “If you would remove me from the shot it could be a Monet painting.”
The 2019 Calendar has a certain subtlety to it. The Pirelli Calendar might still call an association with nude pin-ups but according to Misty Copeland the lack of nudity and strong representation of women in this edition is a representation of the current time. Watson also drew inspiration from his personal favorite Pirelli calendar; the 1974 Cal by Heinz Feurer which was “sexy without being cheap”. The Pirelli Calendar 2019 is without a doubt a testament of the current time and is now part of the evolving history of the world’s most famous calendar.