Photographer Leslie McAllister Makes Pin Up Calendars for the Chess Players in Your Posse
By Katherine Sweetman
Ready to steam up your office, your kitchen, or your bedroom with a new monthly rotation of Pin-Up Girls? Well now you can with Leslie McAllister‘s new twist on the Pin-Up. Because nothing is hotter, more sultry, more erotic than… chess?
That’s right chess.
Leslie McAllister is an American photographer living in Paris, and this is where I first met her– la Rive Droite in central Paris where we drank red wine and watched boats float down the Seine on a handful of beautiful summer afternoons. Her boyfriend, writer, singer, filmmaker, and chess player, Jason Stoneking, introduced us. He was a long lost friend and um “business associate” of mine from many years past. One evening I convinced the couple to go to a bar with me rather than the regular river-spot wine drinking area. They were opposed to the idea at first, but when we finally found a pub-like joint with a relaxed atmosphere and a chess board, they settled right in to a few heated games while a local prostitute watched and gave her opinion of what moves to make next. It was this evening that I first got a glimpse of the importance of chess in Leslie McAllister’s life. But it wasn’t until a couple years later that I found out about her Pin Up Chess Calendars and got a chance to ask her some questions about them.
Interview with the artist and photographer, Leslie McAllister (LM), Interviewer Katherine Sweetman (KS)
KS Leslie, tell me about your background in photography and your unique tie to this subject matter.
LM I graduated with a BFA in 1999, and went into business as a photographer and illustrator. I have mostly focused on portrait photography, but have also drawn comics and storyboards in addition to shooting two short films. The films (directed by Jason Stoneking) were selected for the 2006 Santa Fe Film Festival and the 2009 Short Film Corner at Cannes. Since 2004, I have spent about half my time in Paris where I continue to exhibit my photography as well as working as an assistant to German conceptual artist Markus Hansen. From 2002 to early 2011, I worked as a topless dancer in clubs across the United States, in order to fund my trips to Paris and my efforts to fully launch my photography career. During this time, I shot portraits of many of my coworkers as pin-up models.
KS What is your relationship to chess? (You have competed in many large-scale international championships and things like that, right?)
LM Also in 2002, I began playing in chess tournaments. I was introduced to chess by Jason, who was already a tournament player when I met him. I traveled the country with him for over 2 years, playing in Grand Prix chess events. We used to go back and forth between living on our winnings from the tournaments and living on the money I made dancing as we traveled. I was surprised at how few women we saw playing in the chess tournaments. At many events, I was the only one. I often wondered why women either weren’t interested or weren’t encouraged to be interested in chess. The combination of my chess experiences and my dancing experiences during this time led me to question why the culture expects physical, but not intellectual, beauty in women. And this is the thing I wanted to ask about in my project. Shouldn’t we view women’s intellectual accomplishments as beautiful?
KS Leslie, why is Chess sexy?
LM To me, playing chess is sexy because it requires intelligence, assertiveness, artfulness and aggression. And a cultivated balance of these traits should make for a desirable lover, shouldn’t it?
KS The pages of the Pin-Up Chess Calendar note many traditional holidays, For Instance, Christmas, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, but they also include some birthdays and other dates that are not traditionally on a calendar, tell me about some of these dates and why you included?
LM The dates I added to the calendar (other than US holidays) are important dates in the history of women’s chess. I included the birthdays of many female chess pioneers and champions, along with the dates for contemporary women’s chess events coming up in 2012. My hope is to remind people that we have the choice as a society to encourage women to excel in pursuits like chess rather than to just encourage them to take their clothes off. We can decide that we are attracted to smart and competitive women, rather than settling for just naked ones. But to get there, we have to recognize and encourage the women who have strived, and who continue to strive, towards gender equality in intellectual fields. That has to be important to all of us, and we can show how important it is by being attracted to it when we see it. Personally, I think someone who is trying to improve themselves is much more attractive than someone who is just advertising their sexual services. And that’s what I’m hoping the calendar will make people think about.
KS Tell me about a few of the models used in your calendar. How do you find them? Where did you shoot them?
LM The women in the calendar come from varied walks of life. Some I know from dancing, some are friends and other artists, and a few I just met on craigslist. Some of them are extremely educated and some aren’t. But I think it’s important to not say which are which!
They were actually all shot in indoor studio spaces. The backgrounds and environments are all constructed in Photoshop from mixes of multiple separate images. I had already been working on customizing fantasy backgrounds in my recent series ‘Niche Portraits’ in which I would transport studio portrait sessions into artificially constructed environments designed to reflect the fantasies of the subject. I combined that technique into this project because I wanted to communicate to the viewer that the situation they’re looking at is idealized. This is how we SHOULD want to see ‘sexy’ rather than how we do.
You can find these calendars for sale at Lulu just in time for the holidays.
“What’s even better than pictures of beautiful women? Why, pictures of beautiful women studying chess, of course! This calendar will inspire you to get back to your chess studies all year round. Whether you’re a guy who plays so much chess that he misses female companionship, or a girl who wonders why she doesn’t see more other women studying the game, this calendar is sure to bring joy and encouragement into your home or work place. Each month shows a lovely pin-up model studying a famous chess move, to help you brush up on the history of the Royal Game as the months go by. The calendar will also remind you of upcoming women’s chess events and teach you fun facts about some of the great women of the game. We’d ALL love to see more women playing chess, right? And let’s face it, folks: Playing chess is sexy!”
– Calendar PR