The iconic photographer talks talent, selfies and Ed Sheeran.
Right now, Rankin is showing me his Instagram Story. On his screen, a cartoon police officer face-filter shrouds his features and he does a convincing little comedy sketch, all while masked by caricature aviators and a bobby hat. Yes, one of the world’s leading photographers – whose lens has pointed at the likes of the Queen, David Bowie, Madonna and countless other starry subjects – is having a tinker on the app, because “to change something, you have to understand it”.
No surprise here. This quality of unshakable curiosity pervades everything that the photographer does, or has done, in his career – which has spanned well over two decades. Four publications to his name, a Sisyphean barrage of projects and an army of all-black-wearing creatives only serve to bolster his brand.
Over time, Rankin has gained cult status for his razor-sharp portraiture and contributions to the fashion industry. He’s made a career out of championing new talent and providing platforms for emerging faces and voices (whether that be musicians, artists, or Timothée Chalamet). But one thing is HD-clear upon chatting to him: he’s nowhere near finished.
For his latest project, he teamed up with gin brand Bombay Sapphire for their campaign, “Stir Creativity”, which saw him capture a series of unique portraits of artists and influencers taking part in live art experience, CANVAS.
We caught up with the photographer and talked talent, selfies and Ed Sheeran…
(LEFT) Henri, DJ & New York Times bestselling author. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
(RIGHT) Rich Woods, world-renowned bartender. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Henri, DJ & New York Times bestselling author. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Rich Woods, world-renowned bartender. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
What attracted you to this collaboration with Bombay Sapphire?
I’ve been working with brands right from the start, and we always tried to do things that were authentic and had a genuine concept behind them. When [Bombay Sapphire] came along with this idea, it felt like my old stomping ground. I’m a massive supporter of people having the ability to be creative, and I like a gin and tonic, so it just felt right.
What did you think of the featured artists’ work in CANVAS?
I thought they were great. I loved the girl Alex [May Hughes], who did the signs. I loved her vibe and knew her work already. I also liked illustrator Olaf Hajek, with the conceptual paints. I thought everyone was pretty good.
You’ve made a name for yourself discovering new talent. What do you look for?
I’ve seen so many people come through the office, been featured and go on to do really really well – even become more successful than I am! I get a buzz out of seeing people be successful, and I see potential in lots of people. I can see if a receptionist is going to be a producer, or if someone’s going to be a comedian. It usually takes me about a month of being around someone, or seeing someone’s work. And then I go, you can do this.
What do you think of the next generation of talent?
The younger generation want to be successful, but they’re not scared of money or business, and they also want to make the world a better place. And this really reflects what I’m like as a person.
(LEFT) Erin O’Connor, model. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
(RIGHT) Tom Sellers, acclaimed chef. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Erin O’Connor, model. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Tom Sellers, acclaimed chef. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
What are your views on social media?
I love it and hate it. I think it’s brilliant that you can come from any socio-economic or cultural background, and you can pick this thing up, say I’m going to be creative and you can be creative. And if you’re good, you will come through, and that democratisation of photography and creativity is exceptional. But what worries me is young kids who have become totally self-obsessed – and let’s just clear this up, the selfie is not the self-portrait. The self-portrait involves examining yourself. A selfie is completely homogenous – there’s nothing positive about it. It’s even worse than narcissism, it’s branding.
But you can have fun on it…
Creativity should be about being revealing, exploring and changing the world. I take the mickey. On my Instagram stories, I do silly videos. It’s like being in the Mighty Boosh where you can create these characters and have a laugh with it. My wife says to me, “why are you taking more selfies?” And I say I’m exploring it. Because if you want to change stuff or understand it, you have to use it.
What tips would you give to emerging artists?
You have to be good at everything: a great business person, self-promoter, networker, and you have try and get people to give you money. I always say the photography or the directing is only 10% of it. You have to learn the other 90%, because the 10% you’re pretty good at already. If you don’t learn to embrace that, you’re always going to be at the mercy of someone else.
Alex May Hughes. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Alex May Hughes. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Who’s your favourite person you’ve ever shot and why?
Robert Downing Jr. because he’s so much more than you expect him to be. He’s totally collaborative, loves the engagement and gives you so much as a subject. It’s a wealth of ideas and shooting. And he’s like the funniest guy I’ve ever met. His comedy is a million miles an hour. And he’s not vain. I think most actors have vanity, but he’s not scared to play with his vanity. I’d love to photograph Russell Crowe, because I think he would be the same.
What’s the key to capturing the essence of someone via portrait?
Trust. It’s an exchange and a collaboration. And I’m really nosy and inquisitive, which I think is part of what makes a good photographer. Most of the really good ones will be like, “tell me about yourself”. And they fall in love very easy. But there’s very few people that love having their photo taken. Very few celebrities. You’d be really surprised. And that’s why they’ll only work with certain photographers, because it’s all about trust.
Anyone you’ve enjoyed shooting recently?
I just shot Timothée Chalamet. He was really interesting to photograph.
Who would you love to shoot?
I’d love to shoot Ed Sheeran because I just think no one’s taken a good photo of the dude. I know I could take a better picture of him and I like a challenge. I follow him on Instagram because I’m just interested to see if anyone will ever take a good picture of him. It’s like like an anthropological study of Ed Sheeran.
Who’s the most surprising person you’ve ever shot?
Morrissey was quite surprising because he was very funny and cool. And David Bailey. I loved meeting and photographing him. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I love humour, so if you’re funny, I can’t resist you.
Do you think you’ll always have a hunger for new talent and creativity?
Bombay Sapphire did some really good stats on creativity and they discovered 42% people felt like they didn’t have the ability to realise their potential. I think that’s because there are creative people out there living completely different lives. But you owe it to people to have a voice. And if you have lots of voices of people trying to change things, it’s good. You can culturally be significant and change the world.
Rankin is collaborating with Bombay Sapphire on the “Stirred by Rankin” portrait series to capture the creative inspiration of well-known and emerging names from the fields of fashion, music and art, in order to inspire creativity across the nation. To find out more, search #StirCreativity
(LEFT) Olaf Hajek, German illustrator. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
(RIGHT) Paloma Rincon, Madrid-based photographer. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Olaf Hajek, German illustrator. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.
Paloma Rincon, Madrid-based photographer. Stirred by Rankin, 2018.