For McCurry —whose famous "Afghan Girl" cover image was recently voted the most recognized photograph in the history of the National Geographic magazine—this meant producing a calendar "with a soul." Models including Isabeli Fontana, Karlie Kloss and Liya Kebede were selected primarily on the basis of their charitable ventures, which range from women’s rights campaigning in Afghanistan to Earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.


The calendar’s notorious exclusivity combined with its reputation for attracting the world’s most prestigious photographers has elevated its yearly release into a veritable pop culture event.


Continuing to exercise his right to full creative control over the 2013 calendar, McCurry also made the controversial choice to shoot the models fully clothed, as well as welcoming a heavily pregnant Adriana Lima into the fold. “It became the logical direction to go in because we thought that perhaps [the nudity] would be a distraction from the real message” he says of the first decision. And of the second? “My attitude was just: ‘She’s pregnant. Let’s shoot!’ It seemed like such a natural, normal thing.”

Admittedly not as provocative as previous Pirelli offerings, 2013’s calendar still feels like the type of high-end photographic tome you might expect to see on Kanye West’s coffee table. Shot in Rio de Janeiro for the third time in history, McCurry’s calendar images channel the sultry, tropical sensuality of what might just be the sexiest city in the world. His unparalleled eye for color and composition are a perfect fit for the vivid streets, beaches and favelas of Rio, which he describes as “the best cityscape I’ve ever photographed.”

While the models remain fully clothed, their sex appeal rises like steam from the surface of each glossy page. As McCurry observes, “These are highly professional models—they’re really good at what they do! They’re evocative, and it’s second nature for them. In some ways, you almost want to dial that back a bit and think and how you can make it more real.”

From corporate faux pas to full frontal fantasy and now back to (augmented) reality—just where will the Pirelli Calendar go next?

Written by Phoebe Lovatt (@phoebelovatt)

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