pirelli calendar

Photographer Emma Summerton to shoot the 49th Pirelli Calendar

The Australian visual artist follows in the footsteps of greats including Avedon, Newton and Leibovitz in taking on the iconic publication

Home life pirelli calendar Photographer Emma Summerton to shoot the 49th Pirelli Calendar

Emma Summerton, the London and New-York based photographer known for her distinctive style and dramatic Vogue magazine covers, will bring her signature vision to the 2023 Pirelli Calendar.

Photographing ‘The Cal', one of the most prestigious assignments in fashion, has been a decades-long dream for Summerton, who cites Sarah Moon, the first woman to shoot for Pirelli, as an early inspiration. “So it was amazing when it happened,” she revealed. “It was like some kind of magic spell finally worked.”

Next year's Calendar will be its 49th edition, following the launch of Pirelli's original Cal in 1964. Summerton's turn behind the lens follows that of rock star and photographer Bryan Adams, who shot 2022's music-themed Calendar featuring superstars including Cher, Jennifer Hudson and Iggy Pop.

Creative vision

Summerton, who studied Fine Arts at Sydney's National Art School, is known for her bold creativity and artistry. This combined with her technical expertise and love of fashion has made her one of the most sought-after photographers working in the industry today. She has shot extensively for British, German, Australian, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese Vogue, i-D, Dazed & Confused and Nylon, while her commercial clients include Yves Saint Laurent, Miu Miu, Dior and Sony Music. During her career Summerton has photographed music stars including Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, along with actors George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Carey Mulligan.

Summerton moved to the UK in 1998 after working as a photographer's assistant in Sydney. In London, she assisted Turner Prize-nominated artist Fiona Banner, helping to shoot images for Banner's first book, and fell in love with fashion photography thanks to the inspiring images of Vogue Italia under the editorship of Franca Sozzani.

“I saw Italian Vogue and it was, wow, Paolo Roversi's pictures, Sarah Moon's pictures, Steven Meisel's pictures, Peter Lindbergh's pictures, they were art,” she said. Her dream of working for the magazine came true after she was taken under the wing of Edward Enninful, then a rising fashion director and now editor-in-chief of British Vogue, who she calls her “fashion fairy godmother”. He has since described Summerton as “brilliant”.

A female point of view

Summerton has always seen the relationship between model and photographer as a synergistic one, a vital partnership that feeds into the image; she wants to know who the women in her pictures are. Her photographs have been described as whimsical, meticulously crafted and inventive, blending fantasy and reality to create images that celebrate personal freedom while making women feel not only inspired but included.

“I love taking pictures of women and showing them [as] strong, but sexy, powerful and sometimes a little weird,” said Summerton, whose work has been exhibited internationally.

One expert who has championed her work is Swiss art collector Nicola Erni, who has one of the world's largest private collections of fashion photography, including works by Richard Avedon, Inez van Lamsweerde, Peter Lindbergh, Sarah Moon, Helmut Newton, Paolo Roversi and Mario Testino. She has described Summerton's work as having “a touch of something unexpected, a signature of its own... almost like a ‘pop-art take on photography' as a medium.” Hearing the news that Summerton was to shoot for Pirelli, Erni said she was “convinced that Emma will be one of the great ones”, describing her as “a woman artist who will rock fashion photography in the future”.

Summerton, who once considered becoming a painter, becomes the 39th photographer to shoot the Calendar, the fourth solo woman to do so. She said she was excited to dive into the project and bring her touch to it: “I always thought I would love to see more women's point of view in this world.”

Women behind the Cal

Sarah Moon was the first woman to shoot a Pirelli Calendar in 1972, followed by Joyce Tenneson in 1989. Inez van Lamsweerde shot the Cal with partner Vinoodh Matadin in 2007. Annie Leibovitz has been behind the lens twice, in 2000 and 2016.

In the early 1970s Moon was credited with overturning the pin-up feel of the Pirelli Calendar thanks to her timeless, dreamy, “authentically female” pictures.

“Sarah Moon was one of the first art photographers whose fashion work I saw and thought fashion photography could be this elevated creative thing where you could make images that didn't just exist for a month in a magazine but went on to have a life outside of that,” Summerton said.

Seventeen years after Moon, Tenneson's Zodiac-themed Calendar featured partially nude women in images that conjured figures from classical mythology rather than sex symbols.

In 2000, Leibovitz cast modern dancers along with Olympic athlete Jacqui Agyepong and the models Laetitia Casta and Alex Wek in a Calendar that celebrated the power of the female form.

Dutch fashion photography duo van Lamsweerde and Matadin captured five iconic actresses, including a 72-year-old Sophia Loren, the oldest woman to pose for the Calendar, in a series of candid black and white portraits. In 2016, Leibovitz returned to tear up the rulebook, casting 13 women famed for achievements in fields from the arts to sport, philanthropy and business, including Yoko Ono, Kathleen Kennedy, Ava DuVernay, Serena Williams and Amy Schumer.

An opportunity to innovate

Since the Calendar's inception, many of the world's most famous photographers have been commissioned to shoot its pages, among them Norman Parkinson, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Peter Beard, Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier.

Every photographer evolves and innovates the Calendar's theme and style. In 1987 Terence Donovan created a Calendar featuring only black models, including a then 16-year-old Naomi Campbell. The 2018 Calendar shot by British photographer Tim Walker similarly featured an all-black cast that again included Campbell, along with Lupita Nyong'o, Djimon Hounsou, Whoopi Goldberg and RuPaul, among others. In 2013, photojournalist Steve McCurry shot the Calendar on the streets of Rio de Janeiro featuring models, all fully clothed and known for their charitable work. Now Summerton is joining the roster of photographic greats behind the Cal and it's clear that she will bring her own stamp to the 2023 edition.

“When I think of the photographers who have shot the Calendar over the years, it's mind blowing,” she said. “I have moments where I'm still pinching myself. It's wild and amazing and exciting and daunting and a great creative adventure with amazing people. I'm thrilled to bits.”