Recipients of the 2013 Pirelli calendar might be surprised to find that it contains no nude photographs — an obvious departure from recent tradition. “When I told the models there would be no nudity, some of them were disappointed,” laughs casting director Jennifer Starr, who has worked with Pirelli on the calendar for seventeen years. Petra Nemcova was one of them: “I found out only a week before that it wasn’t nude,” she said. “I’d been, like, working out, getting ready, and I was like, ‘Oh, I have to wear these?’” Kyleigh Kuhn, on the other hand, was relieved: “I have three brothers.”
The decision to cover up was twofold: All of this year’s calendar’s models were chosen specifically for their extensive charity work, and it was thought that nudity might, as Starr put it, “dilute the message.” Meanwhile, the Pirelli team knew that some women might feel uncomfortable posing nude because of the causes they supported. Kuhn, for example, does a lot of women’s rights work in Afghanistan, and a nude photo could compromise her efforts.
This year’s Pirelli photographer, Steve McCurry, reunited with Starr and models Kuhn, Nemcova, and Summer Rayne Oakes at McCurry’s studio in Long Island City a few weeks ago to look at a version of the calendar. McCurry is known for his photographs of impoverished, war-torn countries; his most famous image, Afghan Girl, became iconic when it appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Although the Pirelli assignment wasn’t his first time working with fashion models (“I did a couple of shoots in Italy, years ago”), it’s a far cry from the raw photojournalism he’s built his career on.
The models greeted McCurry, who is white-haired and soft spoken, with exuberant hugs and kisses; it was clear that he was unused to such excitement in his studio, which was stacked high with boxes of film. As the models chattered about the calendar and took pictures on their iPhones, he hung back, modestly deflecting compliments and observing the scene quietly with his wide blue eyes. It was easy to see how, over the years, he’d slipped across borders unnoticed and convinced otherwise wary subjects to pose for him.
But it was McCurry’s outsider status that made him ideal for this assignment. The fashion photographers Pirelli has used in the past (most recently: Mario Sorrenti, Karl Lagerfeld, and Terry Richardson) always have their favorite models, Starr explained, which doesn’t always leave her a lot of wiggle room with casting. Although McCurry had a hand in the process, Starr had much more flexibility than usual. Since the shoot was also set in Rio de Janeiro, Pirelli wanted to include several Brazilian women; they wound up casting Pirelli veterans Isabeli Fontana and Adriana Lima (who was pregnant for the shoot), as well as actress Sônia Braga and singer Marisa Monte. Images of local street life are interspersed throughout.
When asked if it was a leap to work with fashion models, McCurry shook his head. “There was certainly a fashion component, but there’s also a portrait and location component, which is something I have a lot of experience with,” he explained. “With portraiture, you’re trying to accomplish a sense of beauty, poetry, a sense of place, composition, light, and so on. So really, these photographs are not so dramatically different from a portrait of anybody.”
At the back of the calendar is an index chronicling the causes that each of the eleven models is committed to. Also featured are Elisa Sednaoui, Hanaa Ben Abdesslem, Liya Kebede, and Karlie Kloss. Starr says she also tried for activists Lauren Bush and Christy Turlington, among others, but they had scheduling conflicts and couldn’t do it.
What did McCurry take away from the experience? “There was a lot of waiting around for makeup touch-ups,” he said. “I always thought they looked fine!” As for whether Pirelli would make the charity theme part of their regular repertoire, a rep for the company demurred: “Next year we will probably do something different.”
Click ahead to see six images from the calendar in our slideshow.