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Even if you don’t know his name, you know photographer Albert Watson. Alfred Hitchcock holding the plucked Christmas goose, Kate Moss on her 19th birthday, that Steve Jobs portrait — all his doing. Now he’s shot the 2019 Pirelli Calendar, the 46th edition of the über-exclusive publication that’s more art object than daily record. The big question is: Has he stayed the course of moving the calendar into the 21st century? Or fallen back to what made it famous? That is, if you’ll excuse the phrase, “tits and tires.”
The calendar stars four women: ubiquitous model Gigi Hadid, groundbreaking ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and actresses Laetitia Casta and Julia Garner (with three men — designer Alexander Wang and dancers Sergei Polunin and Calvin Royal III — also featured). And while the photographs do feature some nudity and aren’t quite as progressive as last year’s all-black cast doing Alice in Wonderland, they do move the calendar another step away from its past, a trend that began with Annie Leibovitz in 2016.
But how big of a change is it, really, when there are still topless women? For that answer, all you have to do is look at Hadid and Casta. Both models have been featured in the calendar before, but in more overtly sexualized images. Hadid’s first appearance was shot by Steven Meisel for the 2015 edition, with her in a black latex bodysuit. Casta was shot by Leibovitz in the photographer’s first calendar in 2000, one of the year’s relatively SFW images, but also by Herb Ritts in a Pirelli classic: the ‘50s pinup girl.
When you consider the Ritts and Meisel shots side-by-side with Watson’s, the difference is stark.
This year, Copeland and Garner join these two vets in swapping the idea of a “model as muse” theme for a “model as main character.” Watson created the calender, titled “Dreaming,” in the vein of a film both literally and figuratively: the calendar tells the fictional “tale of the aspirations of four women and their determination to achieve their goals” and is shot in a cinematic 16:9 format.
In speaking to his conceit, Watson says, “The common denominator is that these people are all active: they’re thinking of their future and they’re dreaming of where they might be in five, ten, twenty years.” He’s really hit the nail on the head, but not quite in the way he’s expecting.
Where will the Pirelli Calendar find itself in 5, 10, 20 years? For all the supposed changes, women have accounted for just four out of the calendar’s 35 authorial photographers, and five out of the 46 total calendars. As for the history, it’s been less than 10 years since the NSFW Terry Richardson edition, the now blacklisted photographer who was investigated for sexual assault earlier this year. It goes without saying that one has not aged well, although, to be fair, that’s an egregious outlier.
In the end, what Pirelli has cultivated is not so much a dressed-up marketing brochure as it is a buzz-worthy and one-of-a-kind platform for both models and photographers (not to mention art directors, makeup artists and the others who work on the production). And while Watson’s contribution is a promising sign that said platform is evolving to become a more inclusive and less lascivious one, there’s still plenty of work to be done — especially when it comes to putting more diverse talent behind the camera, and not just in front of it.
But since your chance of judging this year’s calendar for yourself IRL is slim-to-none (unless you know someone at Pirelli), we’ve published some selected shots below. It should be noted that a few of them are still NSFW. Everyone clear? Fantastic. Take a look: