Pirelli Calendar

The Pirelli Calendar, some would argue, is an icon of modern Western culture. Taschen, the art book publisher, deemed it worthy of a book collating all the images from inception in 1963 up to the year 2015.

As it is no longer in print I had to get hold of a copy from a charity shop.

What I find interesting about the Pirelli Calendar is how they managed to get the creme de la creme of the creative world involved in the production over the years. No expense was spared in getting the top of the line photographers to work with the creative directors on the project.

There is no question about the quality of the images. But the question is how and why they depict women in the way they do?

The why is fairly simple to answer, it is a marketing product to differentiate a tyre company from their competition. After all Michelin had already taken up the lifestyle sector covering gourmet food.

How women have been portrayed over the years is much more troubling. In one year, the innuendo of photographing a model eating a banana in a suggestive way and then in another a model is brushing her teeth with white foam dribbling from the corner of her mouth is not subtle. They are the definition of a heterosexual teenage boy’s wet dream.

It does make me wonder how ingrained this attitude was towards women in the company. If there were any female engineers at Pirelli when these images were first published it would be fascinating to see how they were treated day to day.

Since this book was published, the producers of this calendar have been trying to navigate their way through a dilemma of a changing world. A marketing product that alienates a large demographic of the population isn’t a great marketing tool. Pirelli commissioned Annie Leibovitz to shoot the 2016 calendar in a way which was meant to empower the women in the pictures.

Have they managed to create images that reflect the modern world we live in? I’ll leave you to judge their success.

2017

2018

2019

2020

OnlyFans

Since the pandemic started in early 2020, I was lucky to retain my day job and be paid a monthly salary. I know a lot of people have been less lucky and had an uncertain time.

Having your career put on pause unexpectedly forced many people to create online content to make ends meet. Earning money from YouTube videos or being on a pay monthly platform like Patreon, has been a great way to keep alive the passion that led them to their dream job. Be it being a pilot who plays a computer flight simulator or a musician who plays TV theme tunes.

Not everyone has the skills or the knowledge to create “intelligent” content. There have been plenty of news stories about people creating “adult” content on sites like OnlyFans during the pandemic.

When I heard about the actress Sarah Jayne Dunn being fired from the TV series Hollyoaks for starting an OnlyFans account it raised many questions in my mind that I thought it worth sharing on here.

The photographs Sarah Jayne Dunn is publishing on OnlyFans are similar to what Lads Mags, if they are still around, print. Skimpy lingerie, boudoir type images that are not out of place for a female celebrity in this day and age. So what is the objection of the TV production company in her making these images? I don’t buy the we are protecting the children argument for her sacking because how many children have credit cards to pay for a subscription.

I’ve never seen Hollyoaks so I have no idea what type of person Sarah Jayne Dunn portrayed in the programme. But if the character is squeaky clean, you would think that a good actor does not need to share the same personality that they are playing because after all they are acting.

There are so few roles for women in the TV and film industries that careers can be very short lived. So creating an online fanbase would arguably be a good career move.

So what is the real problem with the OnlyFans platform? From what I can see, there is an issue with the morality of this particular website. I’m also seeing the complex nature of how our society deals with images of women, the increasing abundance of pornography and the marketing of consensual sex work.

Mayfair magazine

I wasn’t sure about posting an article about Mayfair magazine. A big part of me wants to ignore this top shelf publication. On the other hand, it is a reflection of UK culture. And on balance, even though it is past its heyday, the significance of the magazine cannot be ignored.

The magazine is of greatest interest to me in the time period before it was taken over by the Paul Raymond brand in 1991. It was in these editions that carried full page and double page advertisements for alcohol, car, technology and tobacco brands from that era.

There was even a public health advert.

It was this that gave the magazine a degree of respectability. But as the 80s turned into the 90s the advertising nose dived. A typical late-70s/early-80s edition would have a dozen or so adverts. Just before the publishers sold the magazine, there were only three or four.

So, was the drop in advertising revenue due to a lack of readership? Handily, the magazine published the circulation figures on the contents page for me to easily collate. Here they are from the December edition of each year except 1984.

1972 271,042
1973 409,442
1974 462,841
1975 472,208
1976 400,981
1977 448,146
1978 419,791
1979 445,992
1980 389,889
1981 327,369
1982 340,669
1983 346,133
1984 354,898
1985 342,797
1986 345,411
1987 345,411
1988 318,053
1989 331,760
1990 295,646

For whatever reason the December 1984 copy did not print the figures, so that number is from August that year. And as you can see there is a decline in readership but not a drop that would explain the rapid exit by advertisers.

I can only speculate that there was a change in attitude towards the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s. Evidence of which is the Miss World contest and The Benny Hill Show being dropped from UK television schedules around this time too.

It is easy to forget how few media outlets there were in the UK back then. Channel 4 only launched in 1982 and Sky started broadcasting in 1989. So, the dropping of these programmes would have been a big decision.

Maybe the brands felt that they no longer wanted to be associated with this type of content.

The question I asked of the Lads Mags is the same one I ask of these magazines, have attitudes changed since these were printed?

Thirty years ago, the only way to view these type of images, you would have had to go to a newsagent and pay money for the magazine. Today they are just a free click away from the comfort of your own home.

Hair and fashion styles may have changed but the posing of the women, locations and storylines have a very similar look and feel to the pictures of today. Maybe there was more honesty in the photography from these magazines. Taken from a time before Photoshop and cosmetic surgery were common, there is certainly less Barbie doll perfection to the images. But I don’t want you going away thinking that everything is all rosy.

Some of the content is really embarrassing in how they viewed women. There are cartoons and jokes in which harassment and assault is seen as a compliment. Poking fun at women in sports, driving cars or working was an acceptable form of amusement to the editors of the magazine.

It will be no surprise to say that, just like the Lads Mags, the women featured are predominately white and young. If there is a woman of colour or an older woman there is a feeling of fetishizing that demographic. Their inclusion is an oddity rather than on an equal platform.

This video on YouTube suggests that the use of a colour chart featuring a white woman as the reference point created a bias towards that skin colour during the development of film technology.

Not being able to accurately reproduce different skin tones in the magazine would have given the editors an easy excuse to exclude. However, this is no defence for the language used in the magazines from the 70s about race that is not acceptable today. Still shocks me to read those types of words in print.

With hindsight, it is easy to spot the repetitiveness of the photo sets. Different models would pose in the same setting dressed in a similar way. There are even sets in which they shared the same clothing. The choice of pictures would be near identical in different editions of the magazine. There is almost a laziness in making each model an individual.

There is no way of me knowing for sure if the biographical text that accompanied the sets of pictures are a work of fiction. It is possible that what was written about the models is true. I have no way of checking. I also don’t know if the models were paid a fair wage for their work.

What I have found fascinating is how over time the publication has become a collectors item. At the time of writing, eBay allows Mayfair, Playboy, Playgirl, and Penthouse to be sold on their site. They have managed to retain their respectability after all these years.

Were the 1960s and 70s the age when women were starting to be depicted in this way? I would argue that these magazines gave more access to the middle class market for this type of photography. They also paved the way for the lads mags to come down from the top shelf to become more mainstream.

Unknown sitter
probably after Thomas Charles Wageman
stipple engraving, after 1800
NPG D42546 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Looking at the National Portrait Gallery online archive it struck me that this engraving from the 1800s has a certain style that is hard not to compare with some of the images in the magazine.

What is the future for these types of images? If over the last century or so you can find increasingly more material, it is difficult to imagine that the snowball will stop rolling down the hill.