“There’s a time when people say your work is revolutionary, but you have to keep being revolutionary. I can’t keep shooting pop stars all my life. You have to keep changing, keep pushing yourself, looking for the new, the unusual.” – Rankin
Allowing ourselves to be inspired by the work of others is important to any artist. I am always looking to other photographers for inspiration and to help me explore different styles and techniques. There are those that I look at and think, “I could do what they do”, and then there are those whose work seems to be flawless and I think I should just take my toys and go home. Or, as Jeffery would say,”He makes me want to go work at Starbucks.” Rankin is one of those photographers.
When I first looked at Rankin’s work, I noticed several things. Of course his lighting is perfect, and his use of color is amazing, and his black and whites are stunning. But beyond the technical details , Rankin is an expert at capturing the character of the people he shoots. If I had to pick one thing that I love about his work it would be the eyes. They seem to jump out at you in almost every shot.
Rankin is one of the leading photographers in the world and has been for years, shooting for magazines such as Elle, Esquire, and Look. Although, he nearly graduated university with a degree in accounting, at the age of 21 he dropped out when he realized being a photographer was his real dream. He enrolled into the London College of Printing to study photography.
While there, he decided to start a campus magazine. He visited different classes trying to drum up volunteers to help. This is where he met Jefferson Hack (the only volunteer). The publication was very, very small at first, but by the time of their graduation (although Rankin did NOT graduate) it had established quite a reputation. People at their campus were talking about it, as well as students on rival campuses. It was something people wanted more of. Rankin and Hack launched it to the public as Dazed & Confused in 1992. This small magazine had put them both on the road to success.
Dazed & Confused was one of the most important magazines of the 90′s. It established the stylists involved into the fashion world, brought to the forefront musicians just starting out, and built careers of budding photographers, including Rankin himself. He earned a reputation for his creative portraiture and quickly rose to the top of his field.
In his career Rankin, has shot celebrities ranging from Robert Downey, Jr. and Carey Mulligan to musicians like Madonna and U2 and even the Queen of England. Although he is surrounded by celebrity he tries to remain grounded by doing his own projects, things like self-deprecating portraits of himself. He realizes the beauty that surrounds him is not “real”. He says, “Photographs are a fabrication. All the hair and make-up and styling is a kind of fantasy in how the photographer sees the person. We create scenarios and use lighting, backgrounds and retouching to create an image that is heightened. It’s not inherently real. But then, what you are looking for in photographs is something within it that tells you something about the person. That’s obviously a subjective viewpoint. I guess it’s quite arrogant of me to think my subjective viewpoint is reality, but if I see something that’s not particularly attractive, I don’t try to pull away from that.”
He spends more than half of his time photographing for himself, projects he wants to do, such as Rankin Live. This exhibition was done in conjunction with Oxfam to raise money for their organization. This exhibition was two parts. The first was a retrospective of Rankin’s work. The second was a live shoot. People off the street could come in, pay 50 pounds, get hair and makeup done, then get a portrait taken by Rankin. The portrait would be printed and exhibited within 15 minutes and remain for the duration of the show. He ended up with 1,416 portraits.
Rankin has not only made a name for himself as a great photographer, but also as a very generous philanthropist. He has donated his services to campaigns such as Sightsavers, in which he used makeup to draw attention to the fact that 75% of blindness is preventable and that 2/3 of the 45 million blind people in the world are women.
He also participated in a project called Women’s Aid. He had British celebrities such as Anne Marie Duff, Anna Friel, and others pose with cuts and bruises done with makeup to show how domestic violence can affect every woman, no matter her age or situation.
My favorite of the campaigns he has done for charities is the one he did for Oxfam. In 2008 he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight the forgotten conflict in the country. He took a series of portraits of people who had fled the conflict and were living in refugee camps. The expressions on some of their faces are priceless. “I went with the idea of making them human beings,” he says, “It was a liberation to do photographs that were purely about the subject. An artist of any description becomes very self-obsessed. You just do.”
Rankin attributes much of who he is today to his wife, Tuuli. Although he hates the word, he considers her his muse. They met in 2003 at a shoot for Elle MacPhereson Lingerie, where she was one of the models. She has since become his “go-to model”. One of their more recent collaborations was for Macallan Whiskey. Rankin stayed at the Macallan Estate for almost a week shooting photographs of the whiskey-making process, the grounds of the estate, and Tuuli in the middle of all of it. The assignment was one thousand unique images shot with a Polaroid in black and white. The idea was to show the uniqueness and the heritage of the whiskey by capturing a shot that was immediate and something you can never reproduce. Each shot was encased in a black leather box with a bottle of Macallan’s and printed with a label to match the specific Polaroid. These photographs are sensual and emotional. They are different than most of Rankin’s other work, more personal and warm. You can see through them to the intimate relationship between Tuuli and Rankin.
Rankin is still one of the most sought-after photographers in the world, partially because of talent, but I believe that it is more about his passion for what he does. It’s really not what he does, but rather who he is. Rankin’s work and career are definitely something I aspire to in my own photography. I love the idea of having the “work” side of my career, while also being able to explore projects that are deeply personal to me, with both sides allowing me to improve my craft. Though I haven’t been doing this very long, there is a quote from Rankin that sums up exactly where I am as a photographer.
“Photography to me is an addiction. I get jittery after a couple of days without a camera. Everyone who knows me says I’m happiest when I’m shooting.” – Rankin