1974: The Pirelli Calendar at its most transporting

The bold, surprising and fun images created by Swiss fashion photographer Hans Feurer remain fresh and vital more than 40 years on

Home life 1974: The Pirelli Calendar at its most transporting
1974: The Pirelli Calendar at its most transporting

The 1974 edition was a showcase for everything the Pirelli Calendar had come to represent since its debut 10 years earlier. A tropical beach location – the Seychelle Islands. A cast of beautiful women – models Marana, Chichinou and twin sisters Kim and Eva Nielsen. And photography that was bold and often surprising. The man behind the camera was Hans Feurer and his pictures illustrate what makes him such an exciting and innovative photographer.

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The 1974 Pirelli Calendar was shot in the Seychelles by Swiss photographer Hans Feurer, who excelled at using light and shade to create extraordinary effects. Here the shadows cast by palm trees overhead look like zebra stripes on model Marana’s bare skin.

The Swiss-born lensman, now in his early 80s, prefers to shoot on location rather than in a studio, uses natural light and applies minimal post-production work, if any. “Photography is light and shadow. Shadow is just as crucial,” Feurer once said in a discussion of his work published on the fashion platform Ssense. And his expert use of light and shade is on display everywhere in this shoot.

Consider the image for March, where shadows from palm fronds overhead throw slanting bars across Marana’s bare skin. Or the picture for January, where Feurer captures rays of light bouncing off her glossy red lips. The latter image, whose saturated colour and light effects we might be tempted to attribute to Photoshop if it had been invented back then, showcases another Feurer trademark, a kind of “visual hyper-reality”  as one commentator put it, that makes his images truly pop.

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The 1974 Pirelli Calendar was shot by Hans Feurer and styled by Nova magazine’s fashion editor Caroline Baker, who often drew inspiration from street style and popular culture in her choice of clothes. The TV show M*A*S*H led her to dress models in military wear as here in the shot for April.

Full of attitude and fun

Asked once why he became a photographer, Feurer said “I love women”.  And that uncomplicated regard for  the feminine  pervades the shoot. Although Feurer resisted the term “erotic” to describe his images, his work was certainly sensual, particularly those set-ups where the models were half-clothed. The women here are depicted as dynamic, mysterious, full of attitude and fun. How else to describe the picture of Eva Nielsen for October, which shows her brushing her teeth, a foamy beard dripping off her chin, her eyes bright with glee?

Caroline Baker, fashion editor of Nova magazine, to which Feurer was a contributor, took charge of the clothes. The British stylist was known for being “anti-label” and drawing inspiration not from Paris or Milan, but from street and popular culture. Inspired by the TV show M*A*S*H she would use camo prints and khaki greens. In this shoot for Pirelli, two of her looks stand out: one of Kim in a see-through green raincoat, another of Marana in a gold jacket with matching gold sunglasses. In both, the clothing tells a story and projects an attitude. It is great styling and great fashion photography.

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Eva Nielsen was one of four women who appeared in the 1974 Pirelli Calendar, shot in the Seychelles by Hans Feurer. Her twin sister Kim also appeared and both later reunited with Feurer on a shoot for the July/August 1974 issue of Vogue Italia, where Eva ended up on the cover.

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A seductive antidote

Feurer often spoke of his photographs as “dream projections”, meaning they were wish fulfilments in which women could glimpse their ideal fashion selves. But these were dream projections in another sense; the pictures spoke of freedom and escape. It was the Pirelli Calendar at its most transporting. Given the state of the world in 1974 – the resignation of President Nixon following the Watergate scandal, the aftermath of war in the Middle East and an oil crisis, terrorist incidents and global upheaval – pictures of island life would have been a seductive antidote.

Feurer grew up near Zurich and studied art in Switzerland. He moved to London to work as a graphic artist, illustrator and art director for various advertising agencies, where he collaborated with legendary photographers including Helmut Newton, William Klein and Frank Horvat. That provided him with a grounding, but the experience that really made him want to be a photographer was the two years he spent travelling across Africa from 1966 to 1968. It was Africa that opened his eyes “in terms of what I see and how I see,”  he said in a 2014 interview for The Business of Fashion. “I would see women go out to get water in the early morning light and they had a glow around them. I was awed and started to develop a feeling and understanding for the magic of light and shadow.”

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The 1974 Pirelli Calendar was shot in the Seychelles by Swiss photographer Hans Feurer. Recalling this picture of Eva Nielsen years later, he told The Cut: “It’s kind of violent the way she shoots out of the water. It grabs you somehow.”

On his return to London, he began working as a photographer and was soon shooting for British and French Vogue. His reputation grew and the work flooded in. Over the years, he has shot for publications including Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Numero and GQ, along with campaigns for Juicy Couture and Desigual, though Feurer is best known for his extraordinary 1980s campaign work for the Japanese label Kenzo. Those images showed off another characteristic strength – his gift for juxtaposing rich fabrics and the female form.

Continuing relevance

One particularly haunting portrait from Kenzo’s 1983 advertising campaign shows model Iman wrapped in layers of red and fuchsia, her face veiled. A potent mirage of fabric and colour, it counts alongside all of his Kenzo work as a masterclass in how to photograph fashion in thrilling and original ways. “I don’t do sterile, formal pictures,” Feurer once said. “I like to make pictures that provoke an emotion and affect you in your feelings. For that, both the woman and the clothes need to come alive.”

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This portrait of twin sisters Kim and Eva Nielsen appeared in the 1974 Pirelli Calendar photographed by Hans Feurer. Discussing the shoot years later, Feurer told The Cut: “I like very independent women, and women who are not scared of things… I think they are much more interesting than men, and stronger as well...”

The 1974 Pirelli Calendar marked the end of an era. In 1975, the Cal was put on hold for reasons of austerity and the next edition wasn’t released until 1984, by which time tastes had started to move on and the easy nudity of the 1970s seemed out of date. Feurer’s photographs for Pirelli were of their time. But perhaps more than other Calendars from the 1960s and 1970s, the 1974 edition has a lot that remains fresh and vital. How telling that when the current editor of French Vogue, Emmanuelle Alt, took over the magazine in 2011, she brought Feurer back as a contributing editor, joining a stable of experienced photographers that includes David Sims and Mert & Marcus. Undoubtedly there is something in the way Feurer shoots – the authenticity of his process, the expressiveness of his pictures – that continues to feel relevant and appealing. In that sense, his work for Pirelli is as important today as it was over 40 years ago.

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