venerdì 19 maggio 2017

Gioacchino del Balzo: the man beside the Pirelli Calendar during the fashion golden age

Exclusive Interview with Gioacchino del Balzo
Translated from italian

July 1964 Pirelli Calendar

Tony Graffio: Good morning Mr. Del Balzo, I contacted you because I knew you have been the  Pirelli Calendar Executive Producer for a long time. Now that you have anymore obbligation with that Company I would like to know what you really did in those days and how it happpened Pirelli became so popular everywhere with its precious gadget. 

Goodbye Gioacchino: Good morning Mr. Graffio. Yes, that's true, I followed that project for almost 18 years, until 2012. Then, I had enough of it, because the world has changed quite a bit. 

TG: Surely, you will have a lot of interesting things to tell about this prestigious project. I came to you also because I am passionate about printing techniques and I've been able to find the first typographer who printed the Calendar in 1963 and also the last firm charged to work on it now. 

The first photograph of the First Pirelli Calendar showed a Chinese girl in Hong Kong on a bicycle, because in that country Pirelli was selling many tires and bicycle inner tubes.

GdB: Interesting. Most of the printers I used were in England. 

TG: Yes, I know.

GdB: I had two typographies in England and then I had a very good print coordinator. 

Typographer Lythographer
Angelo Vavassori, 75 y.o., retired typographer and lithographer.

TG: I met here in Milan one of the printers of the 1963 Calendar. I hope you will satisfy a few couriosities I have. First of all, I would like to understand why that edition is not mentioned as the first one?

GdB: The 1963 Pirelli Calendar was made as a test and it was not fully endorsed. It was never distributed, it circulated very little and in the catalog it is considered a form of newcomer. The idea, which was born within the English marketing office, was to represent women from various countries along with the product to be sold. Then, the brand autonomy was very strong, even at local level. The Calendar has always been conceived and printed, regardless of the fact that I was concerned with the project, and it has always been the expression of a British reality, in an English environment that was much more favorable to this initiative, for a thousand reasons. In Italy, it has never been easy to create such projects. Believe me!

TG: I can imagine it... 

GdB: I left this environment after so many years, even because it was a bit Italianized during the last years... Anyway, the first calendar makes a bit of a story in itself; it is considered out of print by Mondadori and by the German publisher Taschen. 

TG: Is it a rarity of great value? 

GdB: I think in England there is one copy in the archive, but you can not find it elsewhwere. We have shown it in various publications to explain the story, not for a collecting matter. The most valuable editions, of course, are the first ones, while the value of the editions of recent years is quite insignificant. 

TG: I understand. I'm not a collector, but I'm interested in many things. From a printing point of view, some collectors told me also the first calendars were very well made

GdB: Definitely. 

TG: Why was there a printing break between 1974 and 1981? 

GdB: The Calendar in England and in the Anglo-Saxon countries had come to the top of the success, and then was stopped for practical reasons. In 1971, Pirelli merged with Dunlop and the complexity of the Merge of the two companies did not facilitate marketing projects.  It's also true that in the following years an important oil and economic crisis emerged, inducing Pirelli to make  a pause. The Communication Project was considered perhaps ephemeral for the context of the time. In the pictures of the 1982 Calendar, it was decided to show the tyre, at least as a reminder, more or less evident in the photographs, something that had never been conceived before. Beautiful Models were quickly chosen and we did traveled to exotic places where pictures were shot in total freedom, spontaneously. From this mode of action, there have been moments of great sensuality that have become mythical. Between 1983 and 1992 it was chosen, instead, to show a sign of the product. The idea was not wrong and some great photographers like Norman Parkinson in 1985 and Arthur Elgort in 1990 were able to propose this element in a fairly veiled manner. In 1988, this purpose was a bit too present and recreated a somewhat forced setting, imposing a theme that obliged the photographer to reduce part of his creativity. I think that at that moment the Calendar was losing that Magic Feeling and Exclusivity have marked it in the past. It was at that moment that we decided, in agreement with Pirelli Management, that we had to return to the origins and the origins were freedom and sensuality. 


TG: According to you what was the most successful edition? 

GdB: There are some beautiful editions with Avedon and Herb Ritts photographers. The first Herb Ritts Calendar for me was perhaps the beginning of an era of enthusiasm and great emotional creativity. Models were very beautiful and spontaneous and the photographer was perfectly able to convey the great female sensuality. He had had fully absorbed the concept of Robert Freeman: "Let's go to a wonderful place and let's take a picture." There were no schemes. We came back from the trip and we picked the 12 or 13 best pictures. That was enough to make an exceptional product. Then, we went to Avedon asking him not to set limits. The novelty I think I have introduced is that a Calendar should not be linked to the number of the months. One month might even have three or four solutions. Or we introduced the quarterly period... Everyone started inventing other solutions, because it was a shame to discard the photos that were successful. Avedon presented up to 24 pictures, we agreed on a version of the natural woman and of the dressed woman. All photographs were a decision, 90% of the photographer. Then the last word, whether to delete one or more shot it was up to us and to the Pirelli management. At that time there was a total freedom for both, the artist and art director and they accepted these choices. Photography is largely subjective, but there are also objective factors. The photographs were taken by great photographers who first produced the Polaroids in large format, to better feel and understand the situation and the ambience and to achieve what they felt was an outstanding picture. With the digitization it's all changed, you shoot millions of photograps and then pull out what you need in an infinite number of shots... At the end, of course it's easy to choose the best! 

TG: I heard each picture is totally post-produced. 

GdB: Digitizing is all different. If somebody snaps 10,000 photos it's easy to obtain twenty beautiful pictures! (Laughter) 

1965 refuses

TG: Is everything processed in Photoshop. True? 

GdB: But of course they are all retouched, the digital medium allows to do it and it's always done. 

TG: I saw a French publication that also reported some pretty scandalous images. Was there an internal censorship that tended to exclude the most audacious shots? 

GdB: The concern not to go too far there has always been, we tried to play on the nuances of certain atmospheres. Let's say that sometimes some choices have generated a bit of a debate, like the shots of Terry Richardson. The French television has talked about this (of pictures not approved ndTG)! 

Pirelli Calendar 2010 - Photographer Terry Richardson. 

TG: What budget did you have? 

GdB: Budgets have been declared. The models did not earn much, while the photographers were paid, in my time, from 100,000 to 500,000 dollars. The models were paid around $ 10,000. 

TG: Overall budget for the whole operation how much was it? 

GdB: It was around two million dollars. It was not huge and the return was big.  Do you know how much it was? 60 times as much. 

TG: Wow! 

GdB: Yeah, because if you count all the advertising pages, the television minutes passages, the radio, and the rest, you would have spent or invest, much higher. The news was talking of "The Cal" for at least a quarter of an hour. In Italy the TV show "Porta a Porta" (Italian popular talk show kept by the RAI ndTG) spoke of it! 

TG: When? 

GdB: In 2003-2004. 

TG: Now the Calendar makes much less news, why? 

GdB: In my opinion, the Calendar has lost the spontaneity of its great origin. The Great Calendar were the ones that left the photographer the freedom to express his creativity. When I do not accept the choice of a photographer I'm forced to work with, I'm automatically faced with a non-creative choice... 

TG: Who normally did choose the photographers? 

GdB: At 99% I chose them, I knew everyone, I had the technical skills. The calendar was made 100% in England until 2010, probably the print was then brought to Italy for having more control over the final product. The world has changed and we began to hear about purchasing office that intervened. When they began to argue, to make auctions to find a typographer, the photographer had automatically lost his creativity. I do not argue that we have to stay within market prices, but there is way and way to make certain choices. Once, there were very competent and professional British printers. In addition, this also provided a logistic plan and particular privacy. This world has changed between 2009 and 2010. 

TG: The Management for legitimate reasons was more careful about cost and less about creativity? 

GdB: I believe that it is now a business trend in all areas. It is not that before costed more than now, but the over reacted attention to the costs inevitably reflects on creativity. 

TG: In the early 1990s, the world's most famous calendar was printed in 40,000 copies a year, later by half, and now? 

GdB: We printed 40,000 copies to spread it all over the world, now the thing is very complex, we say it's also a marketing tool. When I was in charge of producing it in England, I had to make it known to the world; We introduced it to China, Soviet Union in South America and the whole world. We have organized Calendar launches and events in Rio, New York, Paris, London, Berlin, and Naples to try to make it more known. It was an Anglo-English and even Italian reality, and then slowly it spread to the world. Over the last few years, the circulation has been reduced to 15,000 copies. 

TG: I've heard about 12,000. Why? 

GdB: Probable. At the beginning of 2000 there was more spread because each country where Pirelli operated was calling for a number of calendars that were spread, let's say among VIPs. Diffusion number was also the criterion for debiting the Calendar cost. 

TG: At first the calendars were distributed primarily to the sellers? 

GdB: No, they were given to the garage. We have to divide everything in four decades. In the 1960s / 1970s, British VIP and a number of important English garages were given. In the '80s in England and to the Anglo-Saxon countries, the VIP and something came to Italy. In the 1990s, when I was busy, it was spread all over the world, of course, through the local business management. Lately, people talk a lot less of it, why? As you make the calendar visible to everyone, it makes it much less interesting and more accessible. Before, to see a photograph you needed a miracle. We distributed 3 or 4 photographs all over the world. Some could take pictures of the Calendar, if they did, but if they put it on the internet without authorization we pursued them legally, because we wanted this to be a much desired object and not seen much. 

TG: So, you needed to talk a lot of it without to show much... now it is the opposite. 

GdB: Right, now things have changed. I have no relationship with Pirelli, but it is clear that the project has less exclusive features! Today, perhaps, it has become more difficult to talk about it,  we need to communicate and repeat continuously. The news disappears quickly! For this reason, I am convinced that showing little creates curiosity, expectation and aspiration. 

TG: People have little memory, with the internet talking about something for a day, but the next day everyone already thinks of something else. 

GdB: I agree, things have changed a bit. We can talk about it, but we used to play the little mysteries too: we gave a little news before the summer and then, in a second time, when the Calendar was launched. They were small teasers with great results! 

TG: Now there are also lots of videos on the making of. What do you think?

GdB: Yes, on Youtube. 

TG: Why? 

GdB: Lately, parts of the footage have been given to the public. The original full video lasts 20-25 minutes. I think it's wrong to do such a thing. Creating a commercial spread of the Calendar loses the aspiration of having an exclusive product. If I always see a certain thing, I no longer have the desire to have it. This is an elementary rule. 

TG: There is no waiting that is part of the desire. 

GdB: Exactly! I remember that when we brought Sofia Loren to the United States, to California, we announced her arrival and all the American News talked of her since 8 am. We had given a picture for Sofia Loren's back stage and the whole world talked of her. 

TG: It is difficult to balance something to show with something to hide. 

GdB: It's tough, I agree, but me and the one who took care of the central management, a dear friend, we got the right results. The Calendar was a mythical product that over the time lost its extraordinary name because it was shown too much. One time, of a calendar made up of 20 photographs, half of it could not be seen, even on the Internet. What we put on our web site could not be copied, there were several systems to limit this diffusion of images. Anyone who received our photo was a privileged one, we distributed a very small number of photographs so everyone wanted to have them. Then, there were those who smuggled the photo because it was firing from the calendar, something that made us play. It was good for us to have someone who photographed the picture of the picture, because so it was spoken in a clandestine way, not in an official way, do you understand? Who copied the photograph was someone who was not linked to the official site; It was not the "Corriere della Sera" or the Times of London... That meant that somebody was talking of it, there was a bit of chaos and then the thing fell there. Big expectation was created. 

TG: Back to the print, what specifications were required and what techniques were used? 

GdB: It was all above the photographer to approve the quality by going to see the first print tests to see if the colours were right and whether certain qualities were fine. Once, the photographer went on a typography for a whole month before he could fix the print colours; it was a much more complicated job from that point of view. This was normal until 2007-2008, we are not talking about prehistoric times. The digital infographic then simplified the work a lot. 

TG: Why do people who work with Pirelli, I'm talking about typography, can not even publicly to be an important partner in making such a prestigious product? In this company near Bergamo, where they now manage print management on printed paper, on behalf of large international brands, using external suppliers, they would be happy to tell everything to me, but they cannot. At the end, Pirelli does not pay much, and in addition, whoever offers his services must partially give up their image return, although later there is an indication of the names in the final credits. Is this right? 

GdB: Now they cannot speak for contract, but once in the Calendar, the name of the printing company was imprinted, and the company that used the printing found this great advertising that allowed us to get great prices for the Workmanship we asked from them. I believe that the current Management has opted for new rules. 

TG: I know the first typographer to deal with was here in Milan, it was called GBM; While now they print from the parts of Treviso, from Antigua Graphics. In England, who was working on this work? 

GdB: A typography that has now closed, Pure Print, its print coordinator was Mike Welles. 

TG: How do calendars look like the last two years? 

GdB: A bit different from what they used to be; I think they reflect the big changes that have happened to Pirelli quite clearly. There is no longer the fantasy of the old times. Naked or half-naked should be seen as a message that can speak of a fairly precise theme. Annie Leibovitz is a perfect poster photographer for American Vanity Fair; She is a very nonconformist woman; It does wonderful things, but in my opinion she has a vision of life without imagination. I think Peter Lindbergh worked a lot better, a bit like the Patrick Demarchelier of the best years: these are photographers capable of making wonderful images, but also having a cultural message, do you understand? 

TG: Is there any other calendar you think is well done or would it be worth collecting, in anticipation of its future reavaluation? 

GdB: No, I do not think there can ever be anything that comes close to what we did with Pirelli in the '90s and 2000s. The British have always had a lot of fantasy about these calendars, let's call them "garage calendars" They were also funny because they were imaginative. Lavazza did something good and Campari too, but they did not choose the right photographers. It is to be said that the object calendar, a bit like many paper publishing products, has lost its charm. I understand that the cult calendar is over, so in the digitalization world, something was to be invented that would always be a paper message, but able to talk about it. I've seen this transformation with a photographer like Patrick Demarchelier who once said to me: "You know what I'm saying to you, now I'm also making digital photos!" When he was already famous for being very fast in shooting. Clearly, digital era has made everything easier for everybody. To make a good shot, instead of putting one day, we took 10 minutes. One that is already fast with the film, in digital is also faster. So he did a bit of digital shots and a bit with the film; in this way life was simpler and services rather than 7 days lasted 5, the logic of work had changed. 

TG: Dr. del Balzo, did you really want to take Demarchelier and half a dozen of nude models to the North Pole in the midst of white bears? 

GdB: Yes, there was the idea of ​​doing something like this to give a more important meaning and message to the project that could have been such a cry of hope for a very worrying idea. 

TG: Mr. del Balzo, could you get me a 2018 calendar? 

GdB: No problem. If you had asked me 10 years ago it would have been different. At that time I had 50 people who were foolish to have one. There were people who obsessed me for a whole month to have it. Did you know how many people asked me last year? Only one! Now I did not ask for them anymore, but if you want it, I can make an exception. 

TG: Thank you so much Mr. del Balzo, you make me feel like a semi-VIP.

GdB: Once the Calendar was a status symbol and there was someone who kept it on his office desk, maybe even closed, to show everyone that he had it. This was the game. The Richard Avedon calendar for exapmple was a bit bigger, holding it on the table, but they show it... Now it is no longer so.

Naomi Campbell Dereck Forsyth Pirelli Gioacchino del Balzo
Gioacchino del Balzo Executive Producer Pirelli in 1993, Naomi Campbell is featured in Richard Avedon's photographs taken for the Pirelli Calendar 1995 in the months of July, August and September. Gioacchino del Blazo, in this personal photo that has courtesy granted to Ortodox Photograhy, is behind the British model. On the Right, Derek Forsyth.

All the rights are reseverd

For those who desire to know more of the Pirelli Calendar and see the images of the complete collection, I suggest to consult the website of Mr. Giuseppe, alias Giuseppe Balzarotti.

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