The remarkable line-up of royal dignitaries and models for the 2024 Pirelli Calendar, ranging from His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, King of West Africa's historical Asante Empire, to Hollywood legend Angela Bassett, pays testament to the vision of 28-year-old Ghanaian visual artist Prince Gyasi. He is one of the youngest photographers to shoot the iconic Cal, now in its 50th edition, but already commands global acclaim for his bold and vivid work.
Being chosen to photograph the Calendar was “humbling”, he said. “I'm one of the youngest to do it and it's amazing, it's amazing.”
His talents were chosen for their impact on his life and thinking with Gyasi noting simply: “some of them are friends, and it felt like working with family because of the connection we shared on set.”
Some are old friends – Gyasi photographed supermodel Naomi Campbell in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2021 for the cover of Madame Figaro, later tagging the supermodel “Fashion Icon in Chief” when posting images from the shoot to social media. Campbell's inclusion in 2024 marks her fifth appearance in a Pirelli Calendar.
Others are new friends such as Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, and writer Amanda Gorman, who read her poem The Hill We Climb at US President Joe Biden's 2021 inauguration.
By the end of the shoot, Gyasi's personal journey felt complete, a vibrant collaboration with colleagues old and new to create dynamic, challenging art.
Many of the Calendar's models were gathered at a three-day London shoot that featured live sets from DJs Juls, JAE5, Tiffany Calver and Mercedes Benson, building to an on-set party feel for the final shoot of Nigerian singer, songwriter and actress Tiwa Savage, known as the Queen of Afrobeats. Gyasi chatted and danced with the crew as he waited for the star to emerge from a lengthy session with renowned hair stylist Issac Poleon that left her with stunning floor-length braids.
Other models photographed in London were: British actor and DJ Idris Elba, star of multiple films including Thor, Avengers: Infinity War, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Molly's Game; actress Angela Bassett, winner of a Golden Globe for portraying Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It and another 28 years later for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; and British writer, director, singer-songwriter and music producer, Jeymes Samuel. Along with hair by Poleon, all received the expert attention of celebrity stylist Olaoluwa Ebiti and London-based make-up artist Mata Marielle and their teams.
On location in Ghana
Gyasi, who rose to fame taking striking photographic artworks of life in his hometown of Accra, Ghana, followed up with a shoot in his home country. It was an opportunity to represent Ghana, Gyasi said, giving people a chance to learn about its culture and appreciate its natural resources such as cocoa and gold. It was here that His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II graced the set along with his royal delegation. Also photographed at the Ghana shoot were Ghanaian-born contemporary artist Amoako Boafo; American singer Teyana Taylor, who's also worked as an actor, dancer, model and choreographer and collaborated with Kanye West; and the former professional footballer Marcel Desailly, who was born in Ghana and grew up in France, playing for AC Milan and Chelsea among other teams in a celebrated career that included winning the 1998 World Cup with France.
It's in keeping with Gyasi's work that he should stay true to his roots for his Calendar commission. The self-taught artist has shot many of his images in Accra and in particular in the impoverished district of Jamestown where his mother came from before becoming a celebrated gospel singer and fashion designer. And his work is known for being deeply personal. He even appears in one image himself, while adding another of an infant representing him at a young age. But his unique creative approach means many of the Calendar's stars appear as they have never been seen before – with highly imaginative sets and styling.
Describing the on-set reactions from his talents, Gyasi said: “You feel the excitement when they see the whole art piece in real life, because it's easy to send them 3D renders of what you're going to do, but when you see it in real life, you see the excitement. So, I will say the common emotion here is love.”
The 2024 Cal marks the publication's 60th year, having been founded in 1964. Gyasi's turn behind the lens follows that of Emma Summerton, whose all-female 2023 Calendar was entitled Love Letters to the Muse, and Bryan Adams' musician-themed 2022 Cal. Other photographic greats who have shot the Calendar include Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Annie Leibovitz.