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.