Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Pirelli Calendar 2017

The Naked Selfie
I’ve been woefully absent from this blog for a little while, now.

You can, if you’re interested, check out my antidote to fashion blog, where I do offer the odd opinion among the stuff about what I’m wearing, but I haven’t been here much, lately.

When I began this blog it was intended to be about ‘writing and other stuff’. At some point, the other stuff took over. I’m a woman with opinions, and I have aired them long and loudly, here, over the past few years.

This year has been extraordinary, and, yes, I’ve had a lot of of opinions about what’s been going on in the World… Of course I have. Just for once, I think that virtually everybody has… And that might be the only good thing that’s come out of all the political shenanigans that have been happening, globally, over the past year.

There’s been upset and anger, sadness and even grief over the political courses that we have taken recently, but it’s virtually impossible to talk about without becoming incandescent or attracting hatred… Or, in my case, very probably both.

I am a socialist and a European.

I think that’s enough said.

Today, I thought I’d get back to the kind of post that I used to write… A post about the small stuff that informs the bigger stuff, and affects our lives, how we feel about and respond to each other, and how the World turns.

I had a pop at the Pirelli calendar around this time last year, and here I am again, to talk about the 2017 version.

This will be the 44th incarnation of this iconic corporate ad, but I doubt it will be the last. The calendar has been shot by German photographer Peter Lindbergh, known for his fondness for realism in photography. He prefers his models to be wearing less make-up rather than more, and he keeps retouching to a minimum.

This all sounds great, but it can only go so far. His notions are romantic, but hardly realistic. He has said,

"This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.”

Well, OK, then, but not everyone isn’t affected by the terror of youth and perfection; this kind of pressure effects woman vastly more than it does men. No one cares that Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood were never handsome, or that George Clooney is ageing. The same can’t be said for their female counterparts.

He has also said,

"A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today’s commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?”

Well, he can feel that way, if he likes, but the truth is that a fashion photographer’s job is to sell clothes. Most of high end fashion has very little to do with this contemporary woman in her time. And, the kind of social and human reality that fashion reflects is tied up in class and status, in the difference between the haves and the have-nots. This bloke isn’t shooting for Marks and Spencer or Primark, after all.

The 2017 Pirelli calendar is a collection of black and white photographs of extraordinarily beautiful women. The line-up of actresses who took part is nothing if not impressive, as you can see: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong'o, Charlotte Rampling, Lea Seydoux, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet, Robin Wright, and Zhang Ziyi. 

There is a range of ages and body types here, but all of these women are physically perfect in their own ways, and all but two are white.

Lindbergh claims not to retouch, but you can bet these women have been lit to within an inch of their existences. I imagine there’s also a burden on the make-up artist to produce a flawless no-make-up make-up to show these women, all of them actresses, at their very best, and then, of course, there’s the bevy of hairdressers and stylist, who work their own particular magic.

Just as we saw with Annie Leibovitz’s photographs last year, everything is in ‘classy’ black and white, everything is posed and calculated, clothes appear to be optional at best, and there’s that bloody wind machine again.

Pirelli has done a wonderful job over the 44 editions of the calendar getting itself an awful lot of coverage that, had they decided to rely on advertising, would have cost them a small fortune. It’s a colossal con perpetrated by industry on the masses, and it’s nasty. Sex sells… always. It’s one thing buying ad slots, it’s entirely another being given thousands of column inches in editorial for free. The Pirelli press release comes out each year, and the media responds. Let’s not forget that the calendar is exclusively a gift from Pirelli to its clients; we won’t ever get to see it in its original form. We’ll get to see the photos through the media.

There’s little doubt that these actresses look glorious in the photographs taken for Pirelli by Lindbergh. For some of them, it would be tough to look anything but radiant. For them, it’s just another job, and one that gives them more exposure, but can we stop pretending that the Pirelli calendar is about anything but sex.

Lindbergh is a photographer of beautiful clothes and beautiful women, and that’s fine by me, but he is not a philosopher; he can’t pretend that he is photographing the soul. If that ever happens at all, and I doubt that it does, it doesn’t happen in a studio with the World’s most beautiful, most famous actresses.

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