The 2023 Pirelli Calendar arrives in a large, creamy white envelope delicately embossed with the image of a butterfly. It forms the perfect packaging for what lies within – Emma Summerton’s Love Letters to the Muse, a series of sumptuous portraits that honour the women who have inspired the Australian photographer.
The Calendar brings together 28 shots of 14 models portrayed in the dreamy style that is a feature of Summerton’s work. Each model was chosen for their close affinity with the Muse they represented on the sets which were created in London and New York for shoots that took place in June and July. “In my shots, the borderline between the role that the models play and what they really are is not clearly defined and everything blends together to create a magical realism,” explained the photographer.
Everything blends together to create a magical realism
Stories to tell
The Photographer muse was the starting point for Summerton’s concept, with the model Guinevere van Seenus, who is known for her love of taking photos, chosen for this role. Next came Sasha Pivovarova, a painter as well as a model and one who Summerton has always thought looks like a painting herself. As The Painter, Pivovarova was invited to draw on the walls of the set, in a space that echoed Australian artist and dancer Vali Myers’ colourful, excessive and bohemian works. “There are loops and circles joining up because Sasha doesn’t see the difference between modelling and painting, which creates a beautiful synergy,” added Summerton.
The other women stepped up for their roles. Model, actress and musician Cara Delevingne is The Performer, entertaining her audience while being honest about her own life struggles. Karlie Kloss is The Tech Savant, having pioneered coding classes for girls, pictured in a futuristic virtual-reality landscape. Bella Hadid is The Sprite, who reveals only as much of herself as she wants you to know. Ashley Graham is The Activist, resplendent on a couch in sculpted body armour, looking at the camera as if issuing a challenge. Lauren Wasser is The Athlete, shot on a barren, almost lunar landscape, like an alien queen ready for battle. Adut Akech is The Dream Catcher, embodying the poetry of her challenging life story. Adwoa Aboah is The Queen, whose composure and regal demeanour belie the inner struggles she bears with the elegance of Nefertiti. Lila Moss is The Seer, the young but old soul at one with the earth, imparting wisdom from her magical garden. Emily Ratajkowski is The Writer, portrayed with the two sides of her face reflected in a mirror, as though asking: “Which one do you think I really am?” Kaya Wilkins is The Musician, ready to be inspired by the raven that oversees her bohemian setting. Precious Lee is The Storyteller, whose worlds tell of a journey expressed through all media including film. He Cong is The Sage, painted in all her innate serenity and kindness, coming to life in as if in a dream.
As art director, Tenzin Wild helped style the Calendar’s clean presentation of images that absorb the reader, conjuring dreamy, atmospheric realms where art and nature collide.
A bigger conversation
Originally from Australia and now based in New York and London, Summerton has long approached fashion photography not simply as the act of taking a picture of a model, but as a dimensional exchange in which the woman’s identity, passions and interests inform the image.
“I love a bigger conversation with the models I’m working with about who they are, what they do, what their life is about,” said Summerton, the 39th photographer to shoot the Cal. “I think it opens up a different kind of collaboration, which creates a different, stronger image in my mind.”
Summerton’s approach was praised by the models, who described the experience of Pirelli Calendar 2023 as magical, dreamy and, in some cases, emotional. In referencing aspects of the women’s actual identities, Summerton allowed them to play out a part of themselves. As Kloss, who previously appeared in the Cal in 2013, commented after the shoot: “I think that the reason why I’m in the Pirelli Calendar this year is because of who I am as a person and what I stand for.”
Summerton’s approach was praised by the models, who described the experience as magical, dreamy and emotional
Summerton is the fifth woman to put her name to the Calendar since the first edition came out in 1964. Her predecessors were Sarah Moon in 1972, Joyce Tenneson in 1989, Inez van Lamsweerde (with her partner Vinoodh Matadin) in 2007 and Annie Leibovitz in 2000 and 2016.
The “360-degree vision” for the project also encompasses an extensive online presence, as well as the behind-the-scenes film that is now characteristic of The Cal, although this time it was partially shot by Summerton herself using a Super 8 film camera.