Jul 242012


Pirelli Calendar (This post contains nudity)


Every year the Pirelli Calendar combines

offers one photographer the chance to 

showcase their distinct style.  The muses

are some of the worlds top models who 

spend most of their time artfully cover up

their most intimate areas. This year

Magnum & National Geographic 

photographer, Steve McCurry decided to 

let the girls keep their clothes on.  


Steve McCurry photographing Isabella Fontana for Pirelli 2010. 

Outside of the Zone

Steve McCurry’s photography is famous for being in color.  He was one of the photographers that gave color photography is credit as a legitimate form of image making beyond war reportage.  His images of Nepalese monks and Afghan nomads have inspired hoards of photographers to hit the road with a camera, in the hopes of finding their own Afghan-girl.

Steve McCurry for Pirelli 2010. 

Steve is no stranger to posed portraits.  Many of his images are not as candid as they may seem.  While some of his most compelling scenes were “found” and not created, he developed a distinct portrait style for his unusual subjects.

Steve McCurry photographing Isabella Fontana for Pirelli Calendar 2013 featured in Vanity Fair Italia.

This year the Pirelli Calendar offered the veteran photographer the opportunity to work with some of the top models in the world.  The normal approach to the Pirelli calendar is as follows:

1) Take some of the highest paid (and debatably most beautiful) women in the world…

2) Head to a themed location (anywhere from the rainforest to the streets of Rio, like they did this year…)

3) Strip them completely naked…

4) And have one photographer make a showcase of beauty, sexuality, or perversion depending on their preferences. 

Elsa Benitez by Bruce Weber, Pirelli 2003.

Kate Moss by Mario Testino for Pirelli 2012.

Ana Beatriz Barros by Terry Richardson for Pirelli 2010.

To give you a sense of range that each year features, let us consider some of the notable Pirelli Calendar photographers and some of their pictures:

(2012)  Mario Sorrenti

(2011)  Karl Lagerfeld

(2010)  Terry Richardson

(2009)  Peter Beard

(2008)  Patrick Demarchelier

(2007)  Inez Van Lamsweerde + Vindooh Matadin

(2006)  Mert Alas + Marcus Piggot

(2005)  Patrick Demarchelier

(2004)  Nick Night

(2003)  Bruce Weber

(2002)  Peter Lindbergh

(2001)  Mario Testino

(2000)  Annie Leibovitz


Steve McCurry photographing Isabella Fontana for Pirelli Calendar 2013 featured in Vanity Fair Italia.

The Trend

If the names above are unfamiliar to you, do not worry, none of them would really be considered Steve McCurry’s colleagues.  They are all, for the most part, fashion photographers.  They work in a mixture of color and black + white and small, medium and large format.  Though most of them live in medium format.  Even if you do not like fashion photography, most of the names above are worth knowing.  Their skills lie in working with people, making a subject feel comfortable, and negotiating astronomical day rates (+ $50,000 a day).  Not bad for a bit of shutting clicking.

Steve McCurry for Pirelli Calendar 2013 featured in Vanity Fair Italia.

The Switch

I am not sure how Steve was selected for the calendar this year, but however the idea came about it will be in interesting exercise to witness.  Pirelli changed is policy from featuring mostly nude models to banning everything short of a dress.  Here is another writers reaction to the non-nude marketing approach.

From the preview pictures its difficult to tell if he will pull off the shoot.  Just because someone is a good photographer in one arena, like reportage, does not mean they will be good in another arena, like working on a fashion set.

Steve McCurry photographing Karlie Kloss for Pirelli Calendar 2013 featured in Vanity Fair Italia.

The reason I want to point this out to photographers is three fold:

1) WE CAN’T BE GOOD AT EVERYTHING.  French painter Eugene Delacroix once said “The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.”  Making a leap from travel to fashion would be an enormous challenge for any photographer.  Get good at one thing before you move on to something else.  If you find yourself working on landscapes, architecture, street, portraits, travel, documentary, fashion, and nudes all at the same time, stop.  Pick one, get good at it first.  Then move on to the next arena.

2)  JUST BECAUSE WE ARE GOOD AT ONE THING… Many photographers beat themselves up for no reason.  I see this especially with young photographers who do not want to say no to new work.  As an example they may be working in editorial fashion, but someone offers them work photographing automobiles.  The trouble is that they are not set up equipment wise for the switch and further more their heads are in fashion.  This can be a dangerous exercise because it CAN make you more versatile, but it CAN also be a huge disappointment.  Each photographic field requires its own set of expertise.  There are overlaps, but it can be tricky. When you consider that McCurry is probably one of the top of the world in cultural/travel work, it will be interesting how he does in the fashion world.  ( I say fashion because Pirelli is essentially a fashion assignment with nude models)

3)  EVEN PROFESSIONALS STRUGGLE.  There is a persistent myth that professionals shake good projects out of their sleeves.  Most really successful pros go through very rocky periods in their careers.  Looking back at a 40 year retrospective of Peter Lindbergh might give the impression that it was smooth sailing the entire way through, but this is the furthest thing from reality.  They get bored, frustrated, angry, and lost.  There are transitions that all of us go through.  It can be a huge help to understand that you are not working alone.  Many people have the same doubts, concerns and difficulties as you too.  I use a handful of fellow artists and former teachers as a sounding board whenever I get into meltdown mode.  It can be an enormous boost of energy.

The newest issue of Vanity Fair Italia will have the 2012 Pirelli Calendar layout by Steve McCurry.  Check for it online or at newsstands.  Let me know if you think he pulled off a successful shoot.


Adam Marelli 

  15 Responses to “STEVE McCURRY”

  1. I think each seasoned professional photographer no matter what his/her personal genre can and will bring a interesting and personal twist to a somewhat boring field of fashion photography. I am no expert in the field of fashion but one can not help but notice when reading the NY Times or thumbing through an a 6 month old issue of Elle while waiting to have a root canal in the dentist office that fashion photography appears to have a set style depending on the era. Bringing an outsider so to speak could lend a breath of fresh air to a stuffy type of photography. imho

    • Hey Mike,

      A breath of fresh air could be nice. I remember a few years back Magnum Photo’s Paolo Pellegrin did a portrait series for the NY Times style magazine which was very good. Caught me off guard.

      Hopefully McCurry brings a fresh perspective to the calendar.


  2. Hi Adam,
    From what I believe to see in your images here, it seems rather the other way ’round: McCurry takes fashion into travel photography. I guess he will be smart enough to stay true to his own genre and style. Let’s see whether this is a ‘dangerous exercise’ for fashion. When Avedon took fashion into the street or even into a circus did he actually become a street-photographer?
    Thanks for your great articles!

    • Hey Tom,

      You could be right about that. Steve will surely be interviewed on this somewhere. lets keep an eye out for his reactions.

      And good point about Avedon. He did fashion in the street. Him and Eugene Smith, as an example, have almost nothing in commong.

      Glad you enjoyed the article.


  3. Hey Adam,

    I don’t think Steve Curry will have any problem whatsoever pulling off the Pirelli calendar. The man might not stage fashion shoots but he does know how to shoot people and doing so on the streets of Rio or wherever that leads would be similar to what he already does. In fact I trust, regardless of shooting beautiful women, the results will have a more down to earth, even visceral feel rather than the surreal we are used to seeing. His choice of clothing the models just adds that desire to see beyond the cloth. Sometimes that can be far more erotic than nudity.

    You do make good points though regarding sticking to one thing until you are comfortable/master it and then moving on to the next. Sadly I have control issues in this area because I love to shoot everything. Starting later in life as I am I have to make up for lost time you know! Seriously though, I have noticed when I am solely concentrated on one thing, after a time I do improve. So I find that sound advice, particularly to new people who don’t know yet what they even want to photograph. Pick something you kinda like.. and then graduate to the next once you are confident in it.

    The pros can struggle, just look at their contact sheets and all the disposable shots vs. the few that are ever publicly seen and you know that while photography requires an eye [natural or learned], knowledge of how to use your photography equipment and of course a lot of practice, everyone is pretty much in the same boat as far as always having to work at it no matter their level of fame. It’s unifying rather than as daunting as it might feel at times. I always try to remember that.

    Good article as always,

    • Hi Kristen,

      I agree with you completely about the clothed versus nude shots. Some of my favorite (and oh so sexy actresses from the 50′s and 60′s) were almost always dressed. No one had any trouble making Claudia Cardinale exude some sex appeal. And while there is a time and place to explore the nude, naked and occasionally raunchy its nice to see a change in the Pirelli calendar.

      By selecting Steve, Pirelli took things in a potentially interesting direction. Once the results are posted we can make some more tangible comments. Certainly Steve has a really good chance of producing a solid calendar.

      Your observations about making up for lost time touches on two very important things. One, I often hear people say they are making up for lost time. In reality only a handful of artists ever make more than a decade of good work. The rest ends up being redundant iterations of a good idea. Some only make one good body of work. I find that the looming thought that you are always making up for lost time is a distraction. Enjoy what time you have and do your best. There is no such thing as starting too late. The time you “lost” not taking pictures, you will have gained valuable life experience. Without that critical understanding of the world around you, the pictures would be empty. This is why there are no prodigy 5 year old photographers. Photography is not like music in that respect.

      The other point you touch on is that skipping around is less productive than it seems. its not to say that we only need to shoot one thing, but it helps to have a single project to work on while shooting other random things. It allows you to have a space to collect your thoughts. The series does not need to be huge, maybe 5-7 pictures. But if you set to task to take 7 amazing pictures of a boat…its very surprising what you will cook up in a years time.

      As for professionals…haha. Elliot Erwitt calls his photography his hobby. Maybe he is serious.


      • You know the making up for lost time was a bit of a tease but also true as I could not even afford a camera when my kids were growing up. Other people had video and stills and I had disposable cameras I developed months to years later. Now that I can indulge, modestly anyway, I am re-discovering what I liked about shooting when I was younger and finding new things that I favor. I do projects but I also shoot just to capture things sometimes. Vacations as rare as we get them are for memories, so while I can do better to make art of every shot, I don’t. I just capture the moment as nicely as I can. I don’t believe, though it would be nice to be recognized for some work, that I will ever be a notable. But if I am taking notes for my family which is all I really started out to do, and reflecting a little of myself in what I capture as well, then I think I’ve accomplished a happy medium.

        And I think Elliott Erwitt has the right perspective, famous or not, it’s his hobby, his form of fun. And that is what it is for me. I got too serious for a while and it ceased to be fun so I am back to square one in that respective and just enjoying what I do.

  4. And correcting “McCurry”.. which WP seems to wants to spellcheck [it just spell-checked 'spellcheck'], again. Sorry Steve! :D

  5. It would be nice indeed to see more out of the fashion world photographers offered the opportunity to challenge themselves and present women through, though a biased model world of wimen, their eyes. It would be refreshing as well as maybe more down to earth-like.

  6. I will add that knowing the names of the aforementioned pirelli photographers and some of their works that studying the way it is done in the fashion world is also good sources to improve one’s photography.

  7. Just to be picky, as I’m Brazilian. And from Rio. Unfortunatelly not one of the most beautiful then…
    The first (and third) model is actually Isabelli Fontana. The second I don’t know, but it’s not Ana Beatriz Barros- she is the one with the hen/chicken. ;)

    • Hi Mariana,

      Thanks for point that out. We just did a bunch of updates to the site and they captions in the entire article were jumbled. The ones you pointed out were just a few of the issues. I will sort these out.


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