A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the New Pirelli Calendar
by Kristin Anderson, September 2016 (United States)
You’ve come a long way, baby. The once conventionally titillating Pirelli Calendar has embraced a whole new world—titillating in a very different, more cerebral sense of the word.
Recall last year how Annie Leibovitz featured the likes of Yoko Ono and Patti Smith, and one of the only calendar girls in the bunch to bear skin was (perhaps unsurprisingly) Amy Schumer. While Leibovitz’s 2016 edition was plenty tenor-shifting, Peter Lindbergh first broke the mold with the Italian tire brand’s much-coveted cal way back in 2002.
It was the iconic German lensman’s second time shooting for the project (in 1996 he had snapped some of the many supes he helped to make legendary: Eva Herzigova, Tatjana Patitz, et al) and under his direction it was the first time actresses were photographed for the series. Starlets Selma Blair, Brittany Murphy, Jaime King, Julia Stiles, and co. were lensed on studio back lots and sets, posing alongside cameras and crews and gaffe tape. Though all were clothed, they were nonetheless plenty glammed up. Now, 15 years later in what he dubs, “a counter message to [the industry’s] fake beauty ideal,” the photographer has recruited 15 singular women to star in a series of elegantly raw images: Kate Winslet, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Dame Helen Mirren, Uma Thurman, Robin Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, Charlotte Rampling, Zhang Ziyi, and Léa Seydoux, with a special cameo by Anastasia Ignatova, a professor of political theory in Moscow who Lindbergh met last year.
With a slew of Oscars among them (and, in Ignatova’s case, a degree in international relations), this year’s participants boast as much in the way of substance as they do traditional notions of style and beauty. They range in years from Vikander’s 27 to Mirren’s 71, and in the 2017 Pirelli Calendar all appear ultra-stripped-down; Cruz sports undone hair, shorts and a baggy T-shirt, while Thurman looks makeup-free in a turtleneck. The resulting photos will be, as Lindbergh tells Vogue.com, “a love song to the women I really know and really like, and there’s no exception.” He recalls with a laugh a joking summation of this year’s casting choices: “Everyone in this calendar, at one point in my life, I wanted to marry, and I didn’t have the balls to ask them!”
We caught up with one of fashion’s most seminal imagemakers to discuss the industry’s current state, taking an A-list shoot to Times Square, and his efforts in the face of “bullshit” beauty standards.
YOU’VE SHOT THE PIRELLI CALENDAR TWICE BEFORE; PRIOR TO SHOOTING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 1996, WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE CALENDAR? WERE YOU AN ADMIRER?
Yes. The Pirelli Calendar is and has always been an incredible media instrument. In 1996, I was there with the supermodels. I think that’s why I did the calendar in 1996—because I was kind of “responsible,” if you want, for the supermodels. To show beautiful women was the concept of Pirelli, and you could not go away from [that idea], so I was thinking, ‘It has to be this,’ and that was perfect because they were beautiful and intelligent. That was a beautiful calendar, I thought. Then, in 2002, already I was thinking that the concept could change. [For that edition] instead of ‘beauty,’ or women who express themselves through their looks or bodies, [I thought] it was probably better to say that talent is more important than a great body, no? That was already a little revolutionary as an idea, and [today], we go a big step further.
This Pirelli Calendar is a very important one, because you don’t have to do nudity anymore, you’re not under pressure to do anything with your body, which is great. Beauty today is really twisted, for commercial reasons, so people think beautiful is what you see in advertising and in magazines—all these retouched women. You have to be perfect, you have to be thin, you have to be young—you have to be all this, and this is bullshit. It’s so awful, and this image of beauty is imposed on people for commercial reasons, because you can’t make money [if] you say to someone, ‘You know what, you’re beautiful the way you are.’
IN 2002, IT WAS THE FIRST TIME THE CALENDAR WAS SHOT ON ACTRESSES INSTEAD OF SOLELY MODELS. WAS THERE ANY NEGATIVE REACTION? DID YOU HAVE TO FIGHT AT ALL TO BE ABLE TO SHOOT IT ON THEM?
The only thing I heard was some journalist writing about it said, ‘That was the first and only intelligent calendar.’ [Laughing] But I wouldn’t say it myself! They honored the idea, though, that you don’t have to wear a bathing suit or high heels to look better. Now it’s [a similar] message, but it’s more clear: you take everything away, you take the perfection away, you take great hairdos and wonderful makeup away—you take everything away and you say, ‘These are the twelve of the most sensible, emotional, [actresses].’ If you shoot it on women nobody knows, well, that’s a good idea too, but then you would not make the connection.
What I wanted to do was get the 12 actresses who are the most important actresses—after them, there are not many others left—and use them with that message. Not to put them in character, not to do anything to them, [just say] ‘This is them, and they are raw, and they are sensible, and they are emotional.’ This is beautiful for me. That’s why I like this calendar more than any other before, including the ones I did.
HAS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS EVOLVED A LOT SINCE YOU FIRST SHOT FOR PIRELLI IN 1996?
No. [Here] you have all the big names of actresses who are not known to do bimbo movies, but are known to do sensible films—most of them have got Oscars—and then let them be them. For the casting, all of them I’ve known for a long time, I’ve worked a lot with, and have a lot of love for them and a lot of admiration. These are the actresses who do films that really touch you. [The decision in casting them specifically] was to make sure that they open up enough to be willing to do it. The first two [we shot]—I couldn’t believe it myself, the difference to look at them. One actress, the images of her totally on her own with nothing…you might think, ‘That looks terrible, no?’ but it’s so incredible to see who they really are. I’ve known them 20 years, and I flabbergasted myself; so the message comes over really strong.
DID THE EXPERIENCE OF THIS YEAR’S SHOOT DIFFER SIGNIFICANTLY FROM PAST YEARS’? WERE THERE SURPRISES TO YOU ON SET?
No, not at all; the surprises were that they really all were able and willing to do this. One actress, we went to Times Square—you can’t go to Times Square at 12:00 with an actress that known! I said, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to go to Times Square,’ and [the team] were like, ‘What?! You didn’t read the contract, which says you cannot shoot this and this, and all the actresses you cannot shoot in public places, because for them it’s embarrassing, dangerous—everything.’ I said, ‘Come on, shut up. I’ll talk to them myself, they’ll go anywhere.’[We] got the permission the evening before to go to Times Square. We would have gone anyway, but for Pirelli it’s good to have these things in order!
That was a striking experience, though—Times Square, and the mess of people. The actress [in question] I love a lot, and she would give everything anyway, but there, with all these people and the angst, and the stress—I said ‘Keep on walking, don’t stop walking!’ I was running behind her, out of focus, in focus... You lose the last bit of self-consciousness. If you put a camera on me, I’m so self-conscious. I have maybe 50 portraits from Times Square from that half-hour, and they’re all more beautiful than I ever did.
WHAT IS IT DRAWS YOU TO REVISIT TIMES SQUARE IN YOUR WORK?
It’s a madhouse. So many things happen you can’t control, so [models] lose all self-consciousness, and I lose all control! It’s like you go on a rollercoaster to have breakfast! [Laughing] ‘This breakfast is really boring, I want to do something different’ so you have breakfast on the rollercoaster, and then you have [food] all on your face and on your clothes, and you say, ‘Oh, that was a great experience!’
YOU LIKE THE ELEMENT OF SPONTANEITY?
Yeah, you have to surprise yourself.
OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER, DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH FASHION HAS LOST ITS SENSE OF FUN, IN A WAY? HAS IT GOTTEN TOO CONTROLLED?
Fashion has never changed, I think. It’s much more commercial today, and in my younger years all the designers were the designers. Today it’s all kinds of groups and they switch designers, and they’re under pressure of doing that much business, and if the collection doesn’t work, they get fired. That’s very different today...
I always reserve for myself that I’m not caring about “fashion photographs”—and I don’t. Really, I don’t. That never changed for me. And for some reason people still like to work with me sometimes, so it’s fine. I’d say a lot of people would like to work with you a lot of the time! I’ve tried to work less for the last 20 years. [Laughing] I’ve tried everything! Never work on the weekends, then I [decided to also] never work on a Monday, which makes the weekend much better. Then, every first week in the month. Then, two-month holidays in summer—nothing works!
COULD YOU SPEAK A LITTLE ABOUT SHOOTING WITH ACTRESSES VERSUS MODELS? YOU MENTIONED THAT FOR THIS YEAR’S CALENDAR IT WASN’T ABOUT TAKING ON A CHARACTER BUT JUST THAT INNATE QUALITY ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHING ACTRESSES.
The one big difference between actresses and models is that models are fixed to the camera, and actresses never look at a camera if you don’t force them. They learn their whole life to be there and forget there’s a camera. That’s a fundamental difference. For this calendar, I wanted first to do it with the [original] supermodels who are all 45, 50 years old now, and they look amazingly beautiful. That was the first statement I wanted to do, to say ‘These women are 45, 50, and what’s wrong about it?’ No [extreme] retouching.
You can’t imagine how people talk about pictures today. We don’t do that, but they look at a picture and say, ‘Oh, that’s nice, the hips make a little smaller, stretch the legs...’ It’s really horrible. They get so carried away, I could beat them all up! If legs are large, that’s because they are legs, no? Today, editors go, ‘Oh, it’s terrible!’ I say, ‘What’s terrible, it’s a fantastic leg.’ ‘[But] it’s so thick!’ And I say, ‘Sorry, they have some muscles or something.’ I love a dancer’s leg; I hate these spaghetti legs. Models today have been bred for fashion shows. In the good old days, we found models on the street.
Today you can’t take a normal person into a fashion shoot, because they’d never fit in the clothes—I’m talking about beautiful women with great bodies. You get used to the idea that clothes look great when they’re not filled up.
COULD YOU SPEAK ABOUT THE ROLE THAT SETTING HAS PLAYED IN THE CALENDARS YOU’VE DONE IN THE PAST, BUT ALSO IN THIS YEAR’S?
I love the idea of pulling back the curtain, where you have the exposed lights or the backdrop. The set [itself] is just to enhance the woman you shoot. It has no value on its own and it’s not there to tell a story which I normally love to do. It doesn’t take anything away, it doesn’t guide your thoughts away from that one thought, and you say, ‘That is beautiful.’ It’s maybe not what people told you, but it’s what I think is beautiful.
That, for me, is the whole reason for the calendar.