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Pirelli calendar 2024: Idris Elba and Angela Bassett headline ‘Timeless’ show of Black excellence

By Alex Rees and Tom Page, CNN

(CNN) — The 50th edition of the famed Pirelli calendar has been released, with its customary glamour and pizzazz, and with a few fresh faces ready for their close up.

Trailed for months and featuring a roster of Black talent, from actors to sports stars to royalty, the project was overseen by 28-year-old Ghanaian Prince Gyasi, the first Black and first African photographer to shoot the calendar in its long and storied history.

Headlined by Idris Elba, Angela Bassett and Pirelli habitué Naomi Campbell, as well as the notable inclusion of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, king of Ghana’s Asante people, it marks a bold and colorful departure for the once-risqué calendar.

Gyasi, one of the youngest photographers to receive the nod by Pirelli, told CNN in a recent interview he still feels like a child at heart. You can see that playfulness in his photography.

Elba is stranded on a pontoon surrounded by suitcases; former France footballer Marcel Desailly prepares to leap out of starting blocks wearing a retro reporter’s radio; poet Amanda Gorman and writer Margot Lee Shetterly prepare a lecture on power. Some of their faces may look serious, but the photographer’s compositions are anything but.

Nevertheless, Gyasi said that he’s all business on set. “I’m an artist who knows what I want from the get-go. It’s not like I’m going in (to a shoot) like, ‘yeah we’re going to mix it up,’” he said.

“My sets and stages and costumes are planned for months. So the person (I’m shooting) gets it right. All these people (in my photos) are the characters. So if you come on my set, you do what I say.”

The Ghanaian, who kickstarted his photography career using an iPhone on the streets of Accra at age 16, has experienced a meteoric rise in recent years, creating campaigns for Puma and Balmain, with work adorning the pages of Vanity Fair and GQ.

The theme of his Pirelli calendar, “Timeless,” is taken literally at points (see: Naomi Campbell standing in front of a giant, Dali-esque clock), but Gyasi said it infused the project in other ways.

“The best definition of ‘timeless’ is something that stands the test of time — and that is still quality,” he explained. “For me, it was to create something that if I look at it in 20 years, that I still love it … That it doesn’t look dated, right?”

His distinctive use of saturated block color — a feature inspired by the photographer’s synaesthesia, which causes him to associate words with colors — is on display throughout the Pirelli calendar, from backdrops to costumes. Gyasi has previously said he wants his audience to question whether they’re seeing a painting or a photograph, and he keeps things suitably uncanny here. “There’s a thin line between surrealism and reality — and that bridge is Prince,” he said.

Despite becoming a poster boy for a new generation of photographers, one senses Gyasi could take or leave the profession. “I studied fine art and sculpture,” he told CNN. Both Gyasi’s parents are musicians, as was his late grandfather. Today he has many musician friends who continue to inspire him, he said.

“People will ask me, ‘Why did you pick up a camera?’” said Gyasi. “I picked up a camera because where I come from, it wasn’t really considered a respectable tool. And I was like, ‘I’m gonna change that.’”

Gyasi has come a long way already with his brash photography and irrepressible brio. But given the subject of the calendar and its reflection on time, what advice would he have for his younger self, clutching an iPhone in Accra?

“I would tell myself to be patient; to breathe,” said the photographer. “As an artist, sometimes even though you’re patient, sometimes you feel like you’re overthinking everything. So stay patient and keep believing in yourself.”

“And make sure that everything that you’re doing is centered around community,” he added. “You being the first person to do something (also means) you make sure you’re not the last.”

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