Pirelli unveils its 2023 calendar in Milan, shot by Emma Summerton
Some reps can be hard to shake. It's certainly the case with the yearly calendar from the Italian tire giant Pirelli with its racy 'chicks and cars' aesthetic history. But it's 2022, and the 12-month time marker has pivoted toward a more art-for-art-sake collectible that explores beauty differently. This has been spurred by using female photographers such as Sarah Moon in 1972, Joyce Tenneson in 1989, Inez Van Lamsweerde (of the duo Inez and Vinoodh) in 2007, and Annie Leibovitz in 2000 and 2016. Making her debut this year is photographer Emma Summerton. The 49th edition of the calendar made its official debut in Milan on November 16th at Pirelli HangarBiocca contemporary art museum. Fashion Network sat down with the Australian fashion lens woman at an October press preview in New York for the 2023 edition, "Love Letters to the Muse."
The New York event included a preview of the documentary film Summerton produced with director Carlo Alberto Orecchia while shooting the calendar over five days, mainly between New York and London this past summer. The film takes the viewer behind the scenes and drives home the collective, predominantly female energy to create the 28 images made using 14 models, each assigned a character to play that reflects who they are personally, the women who inspire Summerton, and even a bit of her alter egos.
For instance, Guinevere Van Seenus is also a photographer; Lauren Wasser is a model and an athlete; Ashley Graham, known for her support of body positivity, is The Activist while Precious Lee, who loves writing scripts and tales, portrays the Storyteller.
The other muses and models include Lila Moss as The Seer, Adwoa Aboah as The Queen, Karlie Kloss and The Tech Savant, Sasha Pivovarova as The Painter, Lauren Wasser as The Painter, Emily Ratajkowski as The Writer, Cara Delevingne as The Performer, Bella Hadid as The Sprite, Kaya Wilkins as The Musician, He Cong as The Sage and Adut Akech as The Dream Catcher.
Each image in 'The Cal', as it's affectionately called, involves an elaborate environment created by set designer Viki Rutsch often including an animal, live or otherwise, and other fantastical props. Summerton listed another frequent collaborator Amanda Harlech to style the production. The result is what the photographer referred to as 'magical realism’ in the film. In the movie, models praised the experience for the opportunity to express themselves more than an average gig and described the images as magical, beautiful, and a wonderland.
In the film, Summerton says it was her dream to land the job and states, "There is magic in the photos. My images bridge real and make-believe and a key to my success and perfect for Pirelli at this time."
"I've been over-lording since March 2022, but the concepts and mood boards came quickly because I have been thinking about this for so many years and the ideas just flowed," she said in a post-screening interview. Having worked with Rutsch for many years, the vision was easy to translate into reality.
The extent of the production revealed in the movie also looks like a lavish production compared to today's often paltry shoot budgets. "It wasn't massive, but we kept it under control and 'begged, borrowed, and stole' yet never felt like we couldn't achieve the goal," she continued.
She acknowledged the calendar's evolution from its pin-up past. Any direction from powers that be didn't appear to extend beyond featuring cisgender females. Seduction is present but in a more subtle, empowered manner. "It's a creative platform to celebrate women, and how we do that has changed. Depending on the photographer, it's a different point of view."
"To me, it was who they were in a bigger way than just how they looked but rather something that related to them personally," she continued. "That was exciting to me because the conversation you have with someone when you take their picture makes the picture better or more interesting, or at least the experience of taking the photo more interesting, with conversation."
Ashley Graham was on hand at the CFDA awards earlier in the month and spoke to FashionNetwork.com about the experience.
“It was really special to work with Emma as she is really expressing herself and who she would like to be through those different egos," said the model and mother of two. “Doing a Pirelli shoot is the calendar job that any model wants. I was honored to be a part of it,” she added.
Summerton also shared the film's backstory, which included interviewing the girls.
"The models felt like a part of it because we were inviting them to have a platform to talk about their endeavors and why they participated in the project," she said. "It wasn't them as a foreign character, but their world expanded upon to make it dreamy and surreal."
The photographer acknowledged past calendars mostly came from a male gaze. "In the beginning, we talked about nudity, and it didn't make sense in the pictures, so why force it just because you can," she explained.
In the film, Summerton references the slight bit of nudity with some of Van Seenus's breast showing, declaring, "There is nothing wrong with it. It's our body; we can do what we want with it."
Van Seenus reinforces it in the film by adding, "Women get to embrace who they are and create their autonomy over their bodies."
Indeed, on one of Summerton's sets. "Nudity has to make sense in the image storytelling. I didn't think about it that much. It was about the story I wanted to tell," said the photographer.
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