Each year a photographic vision is released from Pirelli, known as THE CAL which has iconic photographers from Karl Lagerfeld, Annie Leibovitz and more that have created imagery all over the world with notable models and celebrities to transmit their vision. This year, German photographer, Albert Watson had the task to interpret his vision through the just released THE CAL for 2019. We took some time to find out about his approach to working on this project, being on set as well as how this integrates into his body of work!
ATHLEISURE MAG: How did you approach the Pirelli Calendar project?
ALBERT WATSON: The Pirelli Calendar is a unique project for any photographer. When I first took it on, I wanted to do it in a way that would be different from that of other photographers, and I wondered what the best way would be. In the end, I looked for pictures that were of beautiful quality, with depth to them, and that had some kind of narrative. I wanted to create something that was more than just a portrait of somebody – I wanted it to look just like a film still. I wanted people looking at the Calendar to see that my aim was photography in its purest form, exploring the women I was photographing and creating a situation that would convey a positive vision of women today.
AM: How did you formulate the project?
AW: I wanted to ensure there would be a strong narrative, so I thought: “Let’s try and make the shots look like film stills.” Quite a lot of it was shot in widescreen format. And that was quite challenging. Each of the four women has her own individuality, her own particular purpose in life, and her own way of doing things. And they are all focused on their future. So the underlying theme is that of “dreams”, but the basic idea behind the whole project is that of telling a story in four ‘little movies’.
AM: Could you tell us about the stories that bring your Calendar to life?
AW: Each character has a part to play in the 2019 Pirelli Calendar. In some cases, the role was close to what the actress does for a living, but here they were certainly all acting a part. Not themselves. And that’s what I wanted.
The woman played by Gigi Hadid has just split up with her companion. She has a confidant, not a boyfriend, played by the designer Alexander Wang. He is helping her get over this difficult time. I think there’s a degree of angst in these images. With Gigi Hadid’s character, I wanted to convey the sense of a woman thinking about her future, but also showing her in a situation of loneliness. We see her thinking about where she’s going to go in life, what she’ll be doing tomorrow. I wanted her to be much more minimalistic than the other women I photographed, and I wanted her to be reflected in the settings I portrayed her in. The settings of the other protagonists are pretty crowded, and there’s action in almost all of them.”
Julia Garner’s character is a botanical photographer who dreams of putting on successful exhibitions. Julia’s a very, very accomplished actress and she got straight into the character. We were in a beautiful tropical garden in Miami, which turned out to be the perfect place for us to work.
Misty Copeland and Calvin Royal III, on the other hand, play the part of two dancers who want to become famous and live in an Art Deco house. She’s dreaming of dancing in Paris. She is looking to the future and has ambitions. Trying to be successful is her driving force. Copeland’s character earns her living by dancing in a club, but at the same time she has also put up a little stage in her garden, where she practices dancing in order to become a star, sometimes with her boyfriend, played by Calvin Royal III.
The artist played by Laetitia Casta lives in a studio apartment, which she shares with her partner, played by Sergei Polunin. They are both dreaming of success: she as an artist, he as a dancer. We decided to shoot outside, to give the scenes some added natural brightness. The tropical atmosphere of Miami is a key component in this picture. What’s interesting is that Laetitia told me that, in her spare time, she really does do a lot of sculpting and creates artwork. This worked out very well and helped her get into character.
AM: What was the role played by light in this project?
AW: When I was young, the first famous person I photographed was Alfred Hitchcock. He said: “My dear boy, once you’ve finished the storyboard, the movie is finished – all I have to do is shoot it.” There’s a certain amount of his message that has stayed with me. The 2019 Calendar is like a cinematic storyboard. I was very lucky because I trained as a graphic designer for four years and then I went to The Royal College of Art Film School for three years and I came out as a director. I never trained as a photographer and, from that point on, I had to learn to be a photographer and know about lighting. As a photographer, the technical things for me were very difficult, it wasn’t natural. Intuitively, a cinematic aesthetic was quite natural for me to follow. A lot of my work is based on graphics and film or sometimes on a combination of the two. It was quite easy for me to drop into this for the Calendar and produce images like film stills. It was a matter of making all these different elements come together and make a strong narrative. The common denominator is that these people are all active: they’re thinking of their future and they’re dreaming of where they might be in five, ten, twenty years...
AM: Did you like working on the set?
AW: I know some people work well with a lot of tension on set, and part of their creativity comes from this, but I’m actually the opposite of that. If I’m having fun with people, if I’m enjoying being with them and playing around, I get a lot more out of them. I sometimes say to young photographers that it’s ‘location, location, location’. But in a case like this, it’s more ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’. The more you prep for the job, the more creative it will be. It’s thinking and planning, planning, planning. That’s what’s really important.
I had a tremendous amount of support when creating the vision for the Calendar. Steve Kimmel was the art director, along with Arnold Barros and Belinda Scott, and they did a brilliant job. Thanks to their dedication, it all went perfectly. James Kaliardos did our make-up. He did a fantastic job, beautiful, invisible, but yet there. The hair, by Kerry Warne, was always natural for each of the women. He’s had a lot of experience in film work, so he was perfect for this project.
Julia Von Boehm did the styling and fashion editing. On top of that, I had my own team of assistants and digital editors, Taro Hashimura and Emi Robinson, as well as Adrian Potter. All these people contributed in a great way, so this was definitely much more like a film project than a photography one.
AM: Have you fulfilled your dreams?
AW: To make a dream come true, you need to work hard. I’ve always taken it step by step, reaching one goal at a time, without wanting to get immediately to the top of the ladder. Even though I sometimes think this ladder could go on forever, with the top rung ever-further away, I think it's always worth giving yourself increasingly ambitious goals and dreams.
PHOTOGRAPHY Albert Watson | ARTISTIC DIRECTION Baron & Baron | PRODUCTION DESIGNER Steve Kimmel |
| PG 26, 30 + 34 Gigi Hadid + Alexander Wang | PG 28 Latetitia Casta *+ Sergei Polunin | PG 32 Misty Copeland |