This article originally appeared on VICE UK
What comes to mind when you think of a nude calendar? Chances are, it’s that raunchy image of a glamour model pinned to a shabby workshop wall. That isn’t surprising: for as long as the format has existed, images of scantily clad women framed to fit the male gaze have dominated that industry’s narrative. But the Dutch creative duo Stadman.Lara -- photographer Lara Verheijen and creative director Mark Stadman -- are keen to help liberate the nude calendar of those outdated concepts. By photographing people of all ages, body types and genders they've either met in real life or scouted on Instagram, they've given the nude calendar a much-needed update. On each glossy sheet, we see a very diverse range of models portrayed in an intimate frame, in archetypal Amsterdam locations: on the ferry, in the Vondelpark or by the canals. By doing so, the calendar is not only a homage to the sensuality and the many different kinds of naked bodies, but to the free-spirited city of Amsterdam too.
Sexy calendars are a fascinating phenomenon. In the late 19th century, the seed of what they would eventually become started to bloom: advertising started to blur with sex, and so pin-up models became the go-to way to shift just about any product to a male consumer. Though literal centuries have past, that concept of ‘sex sells’ still rings true. Take the calendar of Polish coffin company Linder for example, who hoped to help boost sales of coffins by filling them with bare-breasted women; or the one by Carponizer, an online German carp fishing gear store who showcased twelve freshly-caught, slightly stunned-looking carp held by attractive naked women.
In other cases, however, nude calendars become something of a cultural institution. Take Pirelli: as early as 1962, the Italian tyre company started producing its promotional naked calendar as a way to advertise their goods to car dealers. But instead of pushing for the lowest common denominator, they unwittingly transformed the nude calendar into an art piece. Each year they would enlist a prestigious photographer to interpret the calendar in his or her own way. Famous names include Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, Helmut Newton and Peter Lindbergh, who channelled sexuality through their own lenses – some in a manner more problematic than others. The examples worth mentioning though, include a bikini clad Kate Moss on a beach in the Bahamas, a nude Naomi Campbell covered in gold leaf, Natasha Poly posing as a Greek goddess, or Adriana Lima in nothing but a pair of latex gloves.
In 2016, Pirelli decided to take a different direction by enlisting renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz, and her presence helped desexualise it. Instead of shooting models in various states of undress, Leibovitz decided to feature portraits of notable female professionals – trailblazers in art, entertainment, business, philanthropy, and more. Whilst past women were chosen for their looks, that year’s were chosen for their cultural and social achievements. The New York Times even spoke of the calendar marking “a potential cultural shift”, noting that we had arrived “at a flexion point in the public objectification of female sexuality”.
Surely the power of this particular edition of the Pirelli calendar should not be underestimated. However, isn’t it somewhat of a missed opportunity that these companies -- however progressive they might seem -- still fill their pages with cis women?
“I don’t necessarily consider our calendar as a counter-reaction to Pirelli’s one -- I love the glamour and beauty that those top models and photographers bring, and have always found it quite inspiring,” says Lara of Stadman.Lara. “The casting for our calendar is very much a display of our personal taste.” Although the calendar is not serving a particular political goal, she points out, they do believe it is important to show that sensuality and eroticism can be displayed in many different ways. For that reason, the duo decided to include all different types of bodies: not just those of naked women, but also of young men, old men, pregnant women, trans women, etc.
“I love this photograph of a young mother fondly looking down on her twin toddlers, her naked boob pressed against the playpen. It’s a very tender image but at the same time there is this accidental boob, which makes it quite sensual.” Another of Lara's favourites is the photograph of December, Sofie on her bike, in which she is fully clothed aside for her underwear, confirmed to be missing as her skirt rides up. It might seem like a provocative pose but her gaze -- confident and self-aware -- is actually the dominating element in the photograph.
Stadman.Lara’s nude calendar won’t be a one-off project. “We really enjoy shooting these, and I can see ourselves doing different editions every year,” Lara says. “Who knows? Perhaps next time we'll only cast boys! Or we'll shoot the whole calendar abroad.”
We are definitely not in a hurry to cast calendars such as the Pirelli one aside -- we still love to revel in its glamour and beauty -- but it’s clear that it can sit comfortably alongside new and ‘updated’ versions, such as that by Stadman.Lara. In fact, we predict the latter might become an unexpected collector’s item in years to come.
De Amsterdamse Naaktkalender by Stadman.Lara is available now.