Emma Summerton

Emma Summerton Reimagines the Iconic Pirelli Calendar

Show Notes


To Emma Summerton, shooting the 2023 Pirelli Calendar was a dream—one that was years in the making. Entitled "Love Letters to the Muse," the 49th edition of the calendar is steeped in magical realism, with portraits going beyond aesthetical beauty to acknowledge women's strengths, talents, and sensibilities. The sought-after Australian-born photographer embraces freedom and constraints, and her work often relays this message, yielding a powerful, unique expression. As a visual artist, Emma meanders between making art awash with a distinctive vision and working as a fashion photographer with a sharp eye and a bold, dramatic style. In her much-lauded career, she's learned to overcome obstacles and keep projects moving forward in any scenario. Her mantra when it comes to the unexpected is "Have fun. Don't freak out." Adopting—and shockingly welcoming—chaos can be unexpectedly rewarding. As she recalls, what seemed as challenging and disastrous shoots, often turned out to be uncannily sublime.

Episode Highlights
  • “Love Letters to the Muse” is the culmination of Emma’s decades-long dream to imagine a unique Pirelli Calendar edition.
  • The seven muses represented actual artists—rather than women who had inspired artists.
  • Art or Fashion? Emma happily discovered that the two could coexist and complement each other.
  • Emma plays with reality, transforming it with the camera, light, and composition.
  • Emma got her first break as an assistant to a technically brilliant photographer, who gave her an education in both fashion and photography.
  • Emma developed her voice and style through self-portraiture, which was also her entry into commercial practice.
  • Emma revels in the uncontrolled element of throwing a creative party when doing her art versus marshaling disciplined results for industry clients.
  • Expectations and judgment are ever present, the stress of which Emma manages by trusting her best instincts and staying in the moment.
  • Emma reminds us that imposter syndrome is real, but usually, it’s less about others doubting us than us doubting ourselves.
  • Technical skill helps compensate when plans go awry. Ultimately it’s about being agile and letting things land as they may, and then just getting on with it.
  • Every artist interested in both personal and professional work must find a balance they can comfortably hold in daily practice. There’s no one recipe.
  • Instagram, avatars, and the gaze of social media do not compel Emma—there is “nothing more fun than doing huge, big prints of pictures and having someone put them on a wall or make a book.”
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