The Pirelli Calendar gives it to us every year, enlisting an impressive cast of talents and public figures to grace its pages. Picking an exciting photographer to execute their vision is the other side of the story, and for 2024 Pirelli has tapped the Ghanaian visual artist Prince Gyasi.
Gyasi – tasked with shooting supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Idris Elba, singer and actress Teyana Taylor, actress Angela Bassett, poet Amanda Gorman, singer-songwriter Tiwa Savage, writer Margot Lee Shetterly, footballer Marcel Desailly, singer-songwriter Jeymes Samuel, and painter Amoako Boafo – picked the theme of timelessness. Ironic considering a calendar is bound to time.
For his twelfth subject, Gyasi chose to spotlight King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Grand Patron of the Grand Lodge of Ghana and the Sword Bearer of the United Grand Lodge of England. The image of King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II shot by Gyasi is actually a celebratory one, with 2024 marking the 25th anniversary of the Ashanti Kingdom during his reign.
For this shoot, Gyasi split his time between London and Ghana, taking back to his hometown of Accra where his passion for photography was first born, in order to further explore his mesmerising talents.
At age 16, Gyasi started taking pictures of the setting and people around him on an iPhone. His talent obviously grew and his gear levelled up over time, but the principle stays the same: for Gyasi, it’s all about capturing the community around him, giving an honest depiction of Africa. His style quickly adapted to become subject-focused, contrasted by the stark and vividly colourful backgrounds.
This style is translated into the 2024 Pirelli Calendar’s pages, from fashion to set styling. This calendar’s edition not only marks a milestone in the photographer’s career, but also in Pirelli’s history, with Gyasi being the first Black photographer to take on this project. On top of that, Gyasi hand-selected his cast of all-Black talents.
To mark this momentous occasion, in both Pirelli’s history and Prince Gyasi’s career, we spoke to the photographer about his artistic evolution, the stories behind his art and the making of the 2024 Pirelli Calendar.
Let’s take it back to the beginning. You started getting into imagery and photography at age 16, shooting photos on what was available to you: an old iPhone. What was it about photography you first admired?
Any specific ones?
Late Registration by Kanye West. I liked that cover so much. The concept was amazing. I was always thinking: “If I had to be an artist, or had to create an album cover for someone who’s an artist, what would I do? What message would I send? What’s the abstract way of doing it?”
But also, before leading to that is me building a relationship with my computer – my Windows 95 computer – creating different graphic designs on Windows Paint and finding alternatives because I didn’t have money. [That] is what birthed that abstract alternative for everything that I want to send, any message that I want to convey. I need to find other elements that represent that message. So that’s how I developed that style.
Your work is a play of colours, often mixing bold fuchsias and bright oranges, pinks, yellows. Whatever your choice, it’s striking and feels considered. How did you come to discover or form this style in your art?
It was just a little bit of add-ons every time because it’s a journey. It’s like your age, you add one more year to [what] you already have each and every year. So it’s the same thing that I’ve been doing every year, I’ve been adding one more. [It’s] almost like you have an app and you begin an update every year. That’s what I’ve been doing, making sure I’m still screaming out the solutions to most of these problems that we have in communities in Africa. And even here [in the UK], things that people are facing, like sexual abuse [or] emotional abuse, education… I touched on everything.
“I’ve been able to put the problem and the solution in the same piece each time.”
One thing I developed is trying to make sure that the problem and the solution exist in the same image, and also making sure that I’m using the right elements. I’m piecing two things together. I’m photographing like a painter because that was my background. That was my major. But when I came out, it [was] too saturated. So [I had to] find a bridge for both. What I’m doing is satisfying people who love photographs, and I’m satisfying people who love painting, so I give you a bridge.
Technical details aside, a lot of what makes up a good shot is highly subjective, and having a good eye for aesthetics in that sense is one of those ‘either you have it or you don’t’ things. What qualifies as a ‘good shot’ for you? How do you know that what you’ve just captured is the money shot?
It’s the mixture of everything. For me, it’s the message first, before how it looks. And then the feeling. It’s different, obviously, when you’re working with a talent that’s super huge, because you want to make sure they feel comfortable. Some of them get it so they don’t care. I keep saying “Yo, we’re not doing fashion here. We’re doing art.” When I work with subjects that I personally cast, they get the message more. It’s about me trying to get the message across so it’s like “does it help the message when you see it?” If not, then it’s not a money shot.
Did you have that creative freedom when shooting the calendar?
Yeah, I had that creative freedom. I had so much time to work with the talents. All of them were very excited because when they saw the concept they were like, “oh, this is so interesting.”
When you were first approached by Pirelli, did you already have an idea of what you wanted to create with this opportunity?
When Pirelli approached me, I had to think about what I was doing. I was on my way to the Grammys at the time. When they told me in LA, I was just pacing about, thinking of what I can do.
I went back to my childhood to see the people that actually inspired me and to take off the roof and ceiling above me. [It] helped me push the narrative and push the envelope on everything that I attach. That moment is what made me realise what I should be doing for the calendar. I think it’s very important to highlight all those people.
“When I say “we’re not born timeless, we become timeless,” I wanted to let people understand that you can work towards it, to become that.”
It’s amazing [because] they casted people based on the concept, and also just casting people just for the fun of it. Because some of them were very important and famous, I wanted to do something more personal where it’s actually part of my reality. If you [were to] have a movie of how my childhood went, you actually see all these people in there.
Also, I wanted to redefine what time this is. It’s not about how long something has existed. It’s about how well it has withstood. It’s about the quality of it. Someone younger, Amanda Gorman, who spoke at President Biden’s integration, she’s super young. She’s younger than I am, but she also qualifies as timeless.
From Amanda Gorman to Naomi Campbell and everyone else on that calendar, your casting this year is absolutely incredible. How did you go about picking them?
Again, it’s about going back to my childhood. It’s about what these people represent and how they helped me. Naomi gave me my first magazine cover and she introduced me to so many people. She even talks about me behind my back to people that I don’t even know. I meet them and they’re like, “Naomi told me about you” and stuff like that. There’s so many people that have impacted my life, like Naomi.
“It’s not about how long something has existed. It’s about how well it has withstood.”
Also, there’s so many people who I’ve met in my journey who are even younger than I am, but they still represent something really powerful and positive. They stand for something amazing that’s going to help society. So that’s how I hand-picked the cast.
Your motto for this project is “You’re not born timeless, you become timeless.” Can you run us through what you mean by that?
When I say “we’re not born timeless, we become timeless,” I wanted to let people understand that you can work towards it to become that. That’s what the whole concept of a calendar stands for. [It] is empowering the youth. If you’re telling them you’re born that, then there’s no hope for the kids to be able to strive for that, or to push the envelope. Everything is about working towards a particular goal. If I want to be well built, I have to go to the gym. I can’t say I was born like that, that’s not realistic. We need to be careful [with] what kind of messages we send to people.
You’ve spoken about your work as being a beacon of hope, giving a new perspective and story to African communities which have historically widely been photographed in a negative way, focusing on struggles and difficulties. Your work, I would say, plays different roles as a documentor but also an enabler of culture. Is this something you are aware of and embrace when working?
Most of our work are concepts, so they’re not like documentary pieces. Everything is premeditated, that’s why it’s hard. You don’t see a lot of pieces from me in the year. It has to be well done. I’ve grown based on different resources I’m using and financially I’m able to push the production a bit more.
For me, I don’t think about that consciously. I just think about the message and problems I see around me, and what’s the solution? I’ve been able to put the problem and the solution in the same piece each time. To empower the youth is what I’m thinking about and change the narrative. Let people understand that that’s not the only thing you see in Africa. There’s so many prestigious wealthy people there, way wealthier than people here. It’s just that there are certain people who, unfortunately, haven’t been able to access certain resources. I come here and there’s more homeless people in the UK than Ghana. So we have to change that narrative.
More on Culted