The 1971 Pirelli Calendar was an intriguing departure from what had gone before. That was true for both Pirelli and the photographer Francis Giacobetti, who also shot the Calendar the previous year.
Its setting was no less alluring than the beach locations of the past. Giacobetti and Pirelli’s art director Derek Forsyth chose a beach around Montego Bay in Jamaica. (“Pirelli goes Jamaican” was the perky title of that year’s Calendar.)
But the mood was strikingly new. Since its launch in 1964, the Calendar had exuded glamour and a sense of escapism with blue skies and white sands, forging a reputation on high-concept sexiness that Giacobetti had delivered to the full in his Bahamas shoot of 1970. “I am a voyeur,” he said. “The pleasure is to look.”
The January entry for the 1971 Pirelli Calendar – shot by French photographer Francis Giacobetti – was a close-up study of model Angela McDonald’s face. As attention-grabbing and attention-holding photographs go, it is hard to beat.
A romantic approach
In contrast, this one, according to Forsyth, was designed to be “dark and romantic; it has a wistful theme throughout, very laid back. I was always trying to ensure that people who received the Calendar would actually put it on the wall, so I was aware it mustn’t be pornographic.”
Giacobetti achieved that dreamy, almost melancholic tone through his use of light. “I am first of all a lighting technician,” he once said. “Lighting can be done with very simple elements, and not necessarily with a lot of equipment.” He made do with simple cameras, natural light and an assortment of filters. Many of the shots from the 1971 Calendar look muted, as if seen through tinted shades. In fact, placing a pair of worn-out sunglasses in front of the lens was a technique he became known for.
Many of the shots from the 1971 Calendar look muted, as if seen through tinted shades
Shooting the 1971 Pirelli Calendar on a beach in Jamaica, the French photographer Francis Giacobetti made use of polarizing filters. This image for February was shot in colour but benefits from the stark contrasts and bold lines usually associated with black and white photography.
A feel for setting
Another big departure from previous Calendars was the use of interiors. The indoor shots were taken in a large Victorian-era house and are among the most romantic and original due to their use of natural light. “Every evening there was a formal dinner. There was a staff. It was sumptuous,” Giacobetti recalled in a 2014 interview for Victory Journal. “In front of the house there was an extraordinary tree – a sea grape – with enormous leaves. I waited all evening for the perfect light to shoot a girl leaning against the base of the tree.” The resulting image of Howard ran as March and showed off Giacobetti’s extraordinary feel for setting and composition. The other models were Christine Townson and Caileen Bell. Forsyth took care of the casting. Giacobetti was less concerned with this aspect of static shoots. “I arrived and they were all beautiful,” he said.
Angela McDonald was one of four models to appear in the 1971 Pirelli Calendar, shot in Jamaica by French photographer Francis Giacobetti. This shot of her ran in May. Pirelli’s art director Derek Forsyth did the casting and called the mood of that year’s work “dark and romantic”.
The 1971 Calendar pre-empted the sultry eroticism that would come to epitomise the 1970s. But then, Giacobetti was one of the key architects of that new mood, as the art director of Lui magazine, France’s answer to Playboy. Born in Marseilles to Corsican parents in 1939, Giacobetti started out at Paris Match, then worked at various fashion magazines before joining Lui on its launch in 1963. There he reinvented the concept of the American pin-up for France, adding charm and a sense of humour. The first cover of Lui, from November 1963, showed French actress Valérie Lagrange nude in a pile of straw, spilling out of an upturned crate, a “No.1” gift tag tied to her arm. Remarkably, Giacobetti produced work for the magazine under 14 different pseudonyms, which gave him the opportunity to experiment with his style while also suggesting a breadth of contributors to rival Playboy and Paris Match.
He reinvented the concept of the American pin-up for France, adding charm and a sense of humour
The 1971 Pirelli Calendar was shot by photographer Francis Giacobetti and marked a departure from previous years in using so many interior locations. This wistful shot from October was taken in a large Victorian-era house near Montego Bay in Jamaica.
As well as models he also shot celebrities. One famous sequence of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg enacting a couple’s violent quarrel appeared in Lui in 1974. Another standout image from 1975 showed Grace Jones sticking out her impossibly red tongue, highlighting Giacobetti’s use of filters to effect dramatic contrasts in colour. He also photographed the now iconic poster for the 1974 cult erotic film Emmanuelle, featuring the actress Sylvia Kristel sitting topless in a wicker chair, as well as directing the first of its many sequels and producing Emmanuelle 4.
Giacobetti later turned away from erotic image-making to take photographs of personalities such as Andy Warhol, Yehudi Menuhin, the Dalai Lama and Fidel Castro. Perhaps most notably, he produced a 200-strong collection of portraits of his artist friend Francis Bacon. One of his boldest series, also from the 1980s, called Zebras, Irises, Hymn, played with beams of light across a model’s body to suggest zebra stripes. It led to a long collaboration on campaigns for Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please line. His depictions of dancers in dynamic positions wearing the designer’s distinctive fashions seem a long way from his work for Pirelli. But in their love of shape, line and contour you can see they belong to the same photographer’s singular body of work. Once again, the Pirelli Calendar had been a proving ground for one of the most gifted lensmen of our time.
Model Kate Howard showed up numerous times in the 1971 Pirelli Calendar, shot in Jamaica by French photographer Francis Giacobetti. Mostly in the sea – as in this entry from December.