Photographer Christopher Gabello is convinced that the more than 250 women who tried out for the Varga Bar 2010 Calendar were intrigued by the possibility of being a perfect pinup girl.
"Just from the submissions, you could see these women wanted to be someone else for a minute," Gabello said. "The calendar was a chance for them to break out of their shell - or their cubicles - for at least a day."
And break out they did, in scantily clad 1940s fashion. Think green pumps, frilly aprons, and sheer slips that, in some cases, were pretty revealing.
Gabello's project is more than a dabble in fantasy, though. The calendar, an attempt to re-create the 1940s art of painter Alberto Vargas, will be used as promotional material for the Varga Bar, a hipster hangout at the corner of 10th and Spruce Streets. For $15, it could be a post-holiday gift for the single guy in your life - especially if he understands its connection to history.
Vargas, a Peruvian-born painter, was famous for painting women in alluring poses using clothing - or the lack of it - as seductive prop. Vargas' renderings of curvaceous women in corseted underpinnings and pin curls brightened many a military bunk. His erotic work was published in Esquire and Playboy. Still, Vargas never reaped the full benefits of his success because of poor financial dealings with some of the publishers of his work.
That probably won't be the case for Gabello - an easygoing, skinny-jean-wearing photographer who is well known in local fashion circles. (He often shoots products for Joan Shepp boutique in Center City.) The 30-year-old photographer hopes his version of Vargas' calendar will kick-start some national notoriety. (So far, it's going well: a film company interested in doing a documentary on Vargas is interviewing Gabello.)
Gabello mastered Vargas' technique. Instead of painting the women, however, Gabello photographed them with a white backdrop in his Sansom Street studio. The images are Photoshopped, and the finished work is printed on a heavy card stock that looks aged, thanks to a graphic designer. Despite the work's World War II feel, it's unmistakably of the new millennium. One model - Brianna Jones of Overbrook, Ms. September - is not only African American, but she's sporting dreadlocks and a tattooed bracelet. Cool.
Just don't leave this calendar out in the open; having stayed true to the Vargas style, a lot of these pics are inappropriate for young eyes. That said, the nudity doesn't detract from the artfulness of the work or the empowerment of its subjects. We are entering a more seductive era in fashion in which everyday women are trying out S&M ensembles and boudoir poses. (The models in Gabello's calendar include a mother of three, a Center City shoe retailer, and a yoga instructor.)
Gabello began working with Varga Bar owner George Anni in August. He shot the first image as promotional material to find other willing participants. Jessica Leigh of Bucks County, now Ms. May, is clad in an orange shawl with a Gerbera daisy tucked behind her ear.
"I thought it would be a fun project," Anni said. "I have an original 1948 Vargas calendar and it's gorgeous. We thought, why not make another?"
Gabello said he spent about 15 hours on each woman, starting from their initial contact and including trips to Ettore Salon and Spa for hair and makeup and Old City's Smak Parlour to pick out clothes.
Gabello spent time toning the pictures, adding shadows and lighting, and, in some cases, cinching waists, padding backsides and rounding out breasts. Fantasy. Fantasy. Fantasy.
But Gabello appears most proud of the cover shot. The photo of Kristen Bitting of Fishtown - Ms. July - is a near replica of the 1948 Vargas cover of a voluptuous blonde lying on her back with her legs up in a "V." It's all so vintage.
"We wanted to get it as close to the original as possible," Gabello said. "And I think we succeeded. It was a great experience."