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News & Insight

Annie Leibovitz & Pirelli Destroying Or Reforming The Pirelli Calendar?

By Kishore Sawh on December 1st 2015


How many enduring legacies of media are there stretching half a century? Not too many of note. Bond, Coronation Street, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and the Pirelli Calendar to name a few. But while the rest may be more enduring, Pirelli, arguably is the most exclusive. The tire company’s UK subsidiary has been publishing a calendar filled with only the most glamorous and celebrated fashion and beauty icons of their respective times, shot by the best or most avant-garde photographers of the time, and then limiting the print of the calendars to Pirelli’s most favored clients and influential persons. So it was reserved, in other words, not for us plebs, and became something of a personal statement of importance and achievement.

In fact, it wasn’t until the internet came about that many of us were blessed with seeing some of these images for the first time, and I can tell you, as a young boy, what images they were. They were provocative and evocative but not trashy, and for many they were inspiring. It was sex without the sleaze, and pretty without being perverse. But what else would we expect with the names associated with it: Robert Freeman, Bruce Weber, Greg Avedon, Francis Giacobetti, Herb Ritts, Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh, Patrick Demarchelier, Steve McCurry, and Helmut Newton…and Leibovitz.


Yes, it appears many have forgotten Annie has shot for this calendar before, but where her last time at the plate was as expected or prototypical, this time around for 2015, it’s caused quite a stir. In days gone you would never find Amy Schumer as part of the spread, and the reactions are so loud, it would seem the sky is caving in. Annie has created a major directional shift for this calendar, choosing not to shoot the paragons of female physical beauty, but instead women who are nonpareil in their various areas of achievement.

So instead of Adriana, we have Amy, Kathleen instead of Karlie, and in place of Sophia, we have Serena. So what Annie and some genius marketer in the bowels of Pirelli’s offices have done is shifted the calendar from something to hang on a wall, to something of a discussion. It has brought the Pirelli calendar, somehow, onto the other side of the women’s body debate, and many are suggesting it’s a signal of cultural shift. Leibovitz says of the experience,

I started to think about the roles that women play, women who have achieved something. I wanted to make a classic set of portraits. I thought that the women should look strong but natural and I decided to keep it a very simple exercise of shooting in the studio. This calendar is so completely different. It is a departure. The idea was not to have any pretense in these pictures and be very straightforward.

These words are going to be picked apart by many, and feel free to do so here if you want to bow to the aching predictability of it all. No doubt, she’ll be torn apart for the rather simplistic typical Annie style she did it in, but I’d be more interested to hear what you all think of it from what you draw from it rather than what Annie has said.

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In my (sometimes) humble opinion, I think it a genius marketing move, which will bring the Pirelli calendar into the homes and discussions of people who maybe never knew it existed. It was a risky move, but as humans, we are programmed to take risks, otherwise we’d still be in a cave not eating quail’s eggs dipped in celery salt. And it paid off, but I don’t, however, think this is going to stick as a trend. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. This calendar and any calendar is a visual, and we are drawn to look more at things we find pleasing to the eye, and not necessarily pleasing to a social conscience.


If there is a cultural shift going on, I think perhaps it comes from desensitization. Who is shocked anymore by a naked woman, even doing things generally reserved for those who are double jointed, and even doing them with friends? There are porn sites 3 clicks away that will show you an attractive woman doing things with sailors, kitchen utensils, or even with farmyard animals, but it’s no longer new. I swear, the nature of taboo shifts with what’s uncommon, criticized, or forbidden. Maybe that’s why on those same sites, only for the highest paid-up members, you can find pictures and videos of slim, genetically blessed women, smoking….

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to my local Taschen store on Lincoln Rd. to buy the 50 Years Of Pirelli Calendar, to dwell on the good old days. Some, I’m sure will want my head on a stake.


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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stephen Glass

    I’m a huge fan of AL. I just love her commitment to growth and quality and she just never stops reaching. I hear she’s quite the budget stretcher for VF and Vogue.

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  2. Matt Owen

    A couple of things: first, this has everyone talking about the calendar again, so from that perspective it worked; second, every article I’ve seen on this has used the one picture of an undressed woman as the lead image, so how much of an actual shift is this?

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  3. Daniel Sabic

    It’s like going to a steak restaurant where you always ate super beef, but now they changed menu to chicken with vegetables.

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  4. Brian Stricker

    I will give my take on it ……..carefully. While I understand and comletely agree with the idea of changing the what is seen as the ideal woman and how society sees that image on a daily basis. I really do get since I am married to a strong beautiful woman that works hard at a high level in very large company and cometes just as hard in sport.

    Having said that I think this type of thing starts to get past the point. First the calendar is a special edition not really for public consumption. These images are for a very specific audience. If taking beautiful pictures of beautiful women is now sexist or objectifying women I am don’t know where the line stops. Is it to the point where being an attractive woman makes you a lower class where you should have to hide in shame? A bit dramatic sure, but I am just trying to make a point.

    Second, and the more important one to me. The pictures kinda suck. It is one thing to use the women she chose to use but why shoot the way she did. She purposefully chose what she thinks is average women that have done what she thinks are great things and then makes dumpy looking images with them. They are not flattering, do nothing to show the “power” they have. It just seems to me that if she was trying to make the point she was after she could have taken a little more thought into how the women in those images are presented.

    I guess my real point is, if these were images from any average photographer they would be bashed for the choices she made. She will get a pass since she has a “name” and so people will feel good about themselves for supporting the cause.

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    • Robert Pichler

      Agree completely with you, Brian. Reg the real point at the end, it’s the same situation as it was with Testino and the Royals.

      Or maybe we should look from a different point of view: are we, the photographers, becoming more and more obsessed with perfection that we exaggerate with the whole thing?

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  5. Tom Blair

    To each there own

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