"Shoot a calendar that will inspire the next generation."
Those were the directions that Pirelli creative team imparted to Steve McCurry, the chosen photographer (see: "Afghan Girl") for the 40th Anniversary edition of the Calendar, which launched in Rio de Janeiro this past week.
Instead of the calendar that we often come to expect, featuring artistic nudes, Pirelli and McCurry opted for a less expected route. They chose, instead, to feature eleven women fully clothed -- all of who work on environmental and humanitarian causes. This was of course, music to my ears, as well as many of the other lovely ladies I got to share some calendar space with, including Liya Kebede, who works on maternal health; Petra Nemcova, who started the Happy Hearts Fund after surviving the tsunami of 2004; and Kyleigh Kuhn, who works closely with women in Afghanistan with Twenty Four Suns and Roots of Peace.
Rio provided a vibrant backdrop for the two-week shoot. McCurry not only captured all of us in beautiful locations -- such as the lush Jardim Botânicos, the stately Carioca Aqueduct, and the bustling Favela Santa Marta, but also expertly brought to life the churning energy, magnificent colors and spellbinding rawness of the Carioca way of life.
"I would say I am a street photographer doing 'found situations," McCurry said in one of our interviews. "I tried to portray Brazil, its landscape, its economy and its culture, along with the human element. This was the story I wanted to tell through my lens. For me photography is an important expressive means to tell large and small stories of daily life."
McCurry clearly had the greater vision in mind when making the calendar. Though quiet in disposition, particularly when shooting, he was utterly meticulous with the entire composition of the photo, which clearly comes across throughout the calendar, which if you ever get your hands on one, feels more like a hefty tome.
"We've shot three times in Rio," Jennifer Starr, the casting director, shared with me at the event. "This is the first time that we really captured the heart of Brazil." In a way, the same could be said about the women of the calendar. It was the first time the emphasis was as much about the cause as it was about the woman, and it was in no small part accomplished by Pirelli's vision, Steve's expertise behind the lens, and the ten other women whose beauty clearly stems from a deeper place.
This was ultimately made clear at the Pirelli press events, held on Monday and Tuesday this past week. Let me just start by saying that Pirelli made mention that in the past, the ladies of the calendar may only sometimes get the obligatory question: "What was it like shooting nude?" Of course, we did get the reverse query, "What was it like not shooting nude?," but the majority of the 300 or so outlets that we spoke with over the course of the two days inquired about our initiatives -- and in more than one case, I had much meatier questions.
It may not be unusual to get asked about France's tax hikes, the lack of discussion on the environment in the U.S. Presidential debates, the youth environmental movement, or even the state of the economy's impact on environmental entrepreneurship and humanitarian aid at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, which I had attended earlier this year - but it was at the Pirelli Calendar event where I had such surprisingly erudite inquiries.
Even during the event, which drew in the ever-opulent Sophia Loren, and actors Marisa Tomei, Owen Wilson and Stephen Dorff, I struck up a conversation with Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa about the C40 and World Mayors Council on Climate Change. Not the usual discussion for such an evening affair, but one that didn't seem out of place with the current atmosphere. Even the Making of film shot by Stuart Chapman told a deeper story - a shorter, lighter version can be found online.
It's unclear whether this departure will be the new status quo for Pirelli in going forward, but I can honestly say that it was an honor to take part in a project that brings together a "third dimension of purpose," if I can borrow the words from Petra Nemcova, one of the illustrious calendar girls and Founder of Happy Hearts Fund.
To see more information about the Pirelli Calendar and see images of Isabeli Fontana, Sonia Braga, Liya Kebede, Summer Rayne Oakes, Marisa Monte, Elisa Sednaoui, Petra Nemcova, Hanaa Ben Abdesslem, Adriana Lima, Kyleigh Kuhn and Karlie Kloss, visit: http://www.pirellical.com/2013/.
Follow Summer Rayne Oakes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sroakes