FAQ

These are some of the more frequently asked questions but if you have any that aren’t covered here, get in touch on questions@rankin.co.uk

Where did you grow up and what kind of imagery were you surrounded by and exposed to that you feel has left a mark on you to this day?

I grew up in Glasgow until the age of 10. Then my dad got a promotion at work and my family relocated to Thirsk in North Yorkshire for four years, before moving to St Albans in Hertfordshire.

I wasn’t really surrounded by much imagery growing up. My parents were lower-middle class. Art and culture wasn’t something they ever had any contact with and consequently I didn’t either.

While growing up, my only connection to imagery was through films. My dad would often take me to the cinema. I found myself really seduced by the imagery. I related it to what I would see out of the car window. I remember driving around with my parents when I was quite small, looking out of the window and being very aware that it was the shape of a film screen when you went to the cinema.

What was your first encounter with photography?

I had my photograph taken when I was 17 by a hairdresser who did a really crazy hair cut on me, I just liked the idea of the glamour of it all at that point. I didn’t start taking photo’s until I was 21.

How did you start in photography?

I had begun an accountancy degree at Brighton Polytechnic when, at 21, I started taking pictures. Quickly realizing that this was what I wanted to do I dropped accountancy and went back to my A-levels to study photography.


What was your time at university like?

I was being taught photography by very 1970s Victor Burgin studied tutors, who didn’t really take photographs, and the critique of your work was heavy and semiotics driven. But it was good, because I just rebelled against it massively. It gave me this real drive to go and do something more commercial, reach a broader audience. The main reason Jefferson and I started Dazed & Confused was because we couldn’t get jobs. We promoted nightclubs – that’s how we survived. We put clubs together and we’d do nights, get a couple hundred quid, and that was enough to get us through to the next week.

There was a thriving music industry at the time, which had quite a substantial amount of money, at the time, to commission photographers. I would get PR jobs for record companies from Dazed & Confused. It was a direct link, where we would photograph a musical artist, and they would like the photos and use them for promotional purposes. From there, it was about getting the right agent and the right portfolio, continuously putting stuff out there, doing exhibitions and that sort of thing.

From that era, I’ve taken away the idea that you should do stuff for nothing, because that’s what you had to do then to get ahead. To be innovative is to be in control of what you do, and if you do work for nothing then you have got a lot more control.


When did you decide to start Dazed & Confused and how did you manage to publish it?

Jefferson and I met at college about twenty years ago. We were both excited and inspired by similar things, so we decided to start the magazine together. By hook or by crook we got it published and we started it because we were all at college doing student magazines. I think we were lucky, being in the right place at the right time with the right attitude. It was the advent of desktop publishing and we were at a college whose focus was on designing and taking photographs for print. We were involved in creating college magazines and it was just an obvious next step into publishing our own. In all honesty we didn’t think it would last more than a few issues and here we are all this time later!

When we started Dazed & Confused there was a massive recession in Britain. Thatcher’s policies promoted the black economy, encouraging small, underground businesses. That Do-It-Yourself spirit coupled with a few sponsorships helped us get a leg up.

The early 90’s and 00’s was the time that Dazed documented from Kate Moss, Brit Pop and Brit art and the YBA’s, what was this time like for you personally?

It was exciting because I was at the heart of a scene with people who were all very similar in their approach to life. It was a very ‘DIY’ approach. It was a really creative time. We all came from similar backgrounds. We were very hungry, very excited by the potential of success, doing something that people were interested in and that mattered.

At the same time, we were all quite young, we were having a brilliant time partying so I can’t remember a lot of it! Work was good because it kept me on the straight and narrow. I was more addicted to work than I was to partying.

Previously you’ve said that you have a problem with long term memories and remembering your youth, do you feel in part this is another reason in which you decided to become a photographer to capture moments that have passed?

In a way, yes. Although when I was starting out, it was a theory that had never occurred to me.

Once my son Lyle was born I took lots of photos of him. I realised that I didn’t have many photos from my own childhood. It occurred to me that my lack of memory must have some connection with not having many photographs to look back on.

Even now I can’t remember things – like what my wife wore when I first met her. I can’t remember details of events that are important, but I seem to remember things on an emotional level. Especially when I have a photo to look back on.

What was the big break that made your career?

I made my own opportunities and wouldn’t say essentially that I had one big break. Starting Dazed with Jefferson was because I wanted to get invited to cool parties and shoot people I admired. I really do feel like a “big break” is a bit of a cop-out term. It’s like saying it was my destiny, which it never was. I worked hard, consistently and knocked on doors until they all seemed to open at once.


What would you say inspires you, where do you draw your inspiration from?

People inspire me.  I’m really inquisitive about them, so just people, just meeting people is very inspirational. I think it probably came from my Dad – my parents brought me up to question everything and everybody and were constantly trying to answer everything for me. I think it made me keenly inquisitive about people and I find that I draw my inspiration from asking those questions about people and trying to answer them.

How do you know when you have THE shot?

It’s a gut instinct when everything comes together – you just feel it, and you know you have the shot.
What is or who are your major influences?
People are my major influence. I love meeting new people and getting inside their heads. The best models have great personalities and it really makes my job so much easier. In terms of photographers who have influenced me, the list is endless, but I would have to include Bailey, Avedon, Eggleston, Teller, Knight, Newton, Blumenfeld, McCullin, Leibovitz and Penn in my list.

How would you describe the Rankin style?

The Rankin style is that there is no style! I don’t use a specific type of lighting, I don’t use the same way of shooting all the time, apart from looking for honesty in it. That’s my signature really, the honest thing.


How do you take a good portrait?

When I’m photographing subjects, whether they are models, celebrities or regular people I always talk incessantly to the person in front of the lens. I do it mostly to get a reaction so that I can capture something about their personalities; every person will have a different reaction, a different outlook. Portraiture for me is all about making a connection with my subject, building up a rapport, which the viewer also feels.  I see it as a collaboration.  I try to make it fun, which also comes across in the photographs. I think a good portrait is based on how people feel when they’re having their portrait taken, basically if they feel great, it’s pretty easy to make them look great. Also, it’s important that people feel they can be ridiculous; sometimes you have to risk looking uncool to make an emotional connection with the camera. But for that you have to trust the photographer, to know they wont make you look stupid. Last but not least. Most people hate having their photo taken, (even the famous ones) if you know that, it helps with the way you treat them.

Is there a specific photo which you’ve taken that sums up your work in one and that you are most proud of?

No single photo will ever sum up all your work. There are a lot of photos I’m proud of.

Photographs are parcels of time that you send out to people, which they hopefully enjoy and connect with them. I love the idea of capturing a moment in time. I think that’s why anyone wants to be an artist in the first place, to communicate ideas to people.

Having worked with some of the biggest names in the world from the Queen to Kylie, Marilyn Manson to Kate Moss, what’s your most memorable professional experience?

There are so many fun and memorable things that have happened to me. I get to jump between very bizarre worlds all the time, from Buckingham Palace one day to hanging out with rock stars another. I get an insight into people’s lives that other people don’t – and maybe wouldn’t want to! One of the most surprising shoots was The Rolling Stones because they were so young at heart and so enthusiastic about everything. You get a lot of bands that are photographed a lot and they are really serious and quite mellow and a bit grumpy.  I think that the Stones even at their age now were excited that they were still doing it and excited about life which for me was a surprise.

What is your relationship with Celebrity? In many ways you yourself are celebrated yourself in your own field and in publishing and film, yet have also shot a wide range of famous names across the fields from the Queen to M I A?

I don’t know what my relationship with celebrity is. I don’t see myself as a celebrity and I’d prefer not to be one, having seen the way they have to live.

In terms of my relationship with the people I photograph, it would be impossible for me not to take images of celebrities. The people who interest me, outstanding people, whether they’re in science, art or politics, end up in the limelight. It’s because of that they become tarred with the ‘celebrity’ brush.

As a concept, I’ve been put off photographing celebrities because the images tend to end up quite shallow. It either generates a discussion about their weight or surgery. Or a photographer gets cornered into creating insipid soft beautiful imagery that is very fake.

My book “Celebritation” is all about celebrities not performing to the camera in a traditional way. They’ve been caught in a moment or they’re performing in a more ironic, amusing way. I did that book in 2000 and it was a bit of a piss take of celebrity. But it’s part of my life, I can’t do anything about it. I have to deal with it.

You’ve worked a lot with Damien Hirst collaborating time and again on series of photos and of cause you’ve witnessed his rise in the art world. How and when did you first meet?

I first met Damien in the mid 1990’s. He was exhibiting for a group show in the Serpentine Gallery in London. He was exhibiting a piece called Away From The Flock. It was a white sheep in formaldehyde.

I really loved his work, but I also fell in love with him as a person. His art is about a gut reaction. It has a cerebral quality to it, but there’s a gut feeling you get when you look at the work. He really understands life and death.

It makes you feel, and that is why I like his work. That is what I try to do in photographs. I was taught a lot of the same things as Damien in college. We both went to art school at the same time. It was a very traditional semiotics-based course. What I love is that, in a lot of ways, he has cut through that and has made work that’s not about intellectualising art, but about having an emotional impact on you – I think that’s what art should be. I like that anyone from the street can see his work and have a reaction to it.

Artistically seem to come from a similar place, and enjoy working together.

You’ve worked closely with Kelis shooting her latest album cover and basically all her videos for the singles from Flesh Tone, what is the relationship like between the two of you and how did it come about?

It came about when I was commissioned to shoot the Acapella video, and I realised she was just so unique. I tend to be drawn to people who aren’t following the same path as everyone else.

Musicians who play the game by making music that reflects popular culture are very often just rehashing everyone else’s ideas and jumping on the bandwagon.

Kelis doesn’t do that, she follows her own path. To do that in any art form is very difficult. She doesn’t just rehash, she creates her own way of being seen and heard. She’s an incredible woman, so empowering and unique. It’s exciting to work with her.

I Kelis’ points of view are incredibly unique. She hasn’t followed the route of other young, female pop singers and objectified herself. She’s interested in creating imagery that enhances the music. As an artist I find that very appealing.

How would you describe a typical shoot?

There’ll be about 10 people in the studio. The producer goes through the pre-production (call sheet, hair and make up, model, stylist), and deals with people during the day of the shoot, then hands it over to post production. From the client side, there would be an agency producer or art buyer, creatives, the client, and possibly an account handler. I have at least three assistants on set. Their roles would be digital technician, first assistant who would be the camera assistant, and second assistant, who would be on lights. I would normally have five assistants at any one time, and it’s pretty intense. They stay for at least three years, although some have been with me for eight or nine years.
Every shoot is different but we would normally start with a creative meeting to discuss the concept and aim of the shoot.  From there I like to see the project through from start to finish and that may include casting, styling, hair, make up, retouching & printing.  Saying that, no two jobs are the same & that’s why after 20 years of being in this industry, I’m still inspired by new concepts & working with new people.

What equipment do you use when shooting?

The cameras I use are Phase One DF with Phase One Backs, Mamiya Rz, Canon 1DS mark 3, Canon 5 and 7D’s. Lighting I use are Profoto, Broncolor, Briese and a variety of continuous Tungsten and HMI.

I use Macs for all my retouching.

Do you prefer digital or film and how do you feel about Photoshop?

Digital photography is really collaborative. It allows everyone to get involved on set. The creatives can see the ideas come to life, the models can see what is working and what could be better. It allows me to work efficiently, as I can edit as I shoot.

I do occasionally experiment with film and Polaroid but I have to say that for me, digital is the best medium. I guess I like to see the images develop on set rather than just get final contacts from a darkroom.

Shooting digital, you can have a consensus on the image among the photographer, the hair stylist, the make up artist, the creator, the ad agency, the client – it’s a creative process, because I’m getting feedback.

Post production is an important tool in modern photography. However, in general I try to keep things as real as possible, and I capture as much as I can within the frame. I shot a whole project on Polaroid which could not be manipulated, and Rankin Live also had very little post-production.

Could you tell me about your own magazine, Rank, and the premise for it?

It was a magazine for my assistants. Dazed had become very successful and I launched Rank as a separate, fun project.

I liked the name Rank, because it means rubbish. I thought it would be quite fun to name a magazine “rubbish” – although a lot of people did say it was rubbish at the time!

It enabled us to do the shoots that were so off the wall, so strange and weird that  nobody else, not even Dazed & Confused, would do them.

You’ve released several books. What is your relationship to photography books in general and how do you feel it presents your work and the work of other artists?

For me, books are the most democratic art form. Even if you can’t afford to buy a piece of photography to put in your house, you can probably afford to buy a book. They are a mid-way between expensive photography and just tearing out the pages of a magazine.

With books it’s you, your own piece of work, it’s a personalised platform for your work. When that gets to someone who likes your work, it’s very intimate because you know that photographer has been heavily involved in how the work is presented. Also, I love the accessibility of books and I love the quality of books: the feeling of them, how they look.

I’m a massive collector of books; I’ve got thousands of photographic books. To be part of a group of photographers who get a chance to do a book is a wonderful thing for me. I really love the fact I have that opportunity.

Due to Dazed, Rank and your books, you have a strong relationship with the printed medium which has been signalled as a dying form for a while now. Do you personally believe print is dead and that the internet and I pads are the way forward in displaying and promoting your work?

I don’t think print will ever be dead. Print will live forever. I do think that because photography is such a new medium, if you ignore things like the internet and iPads, you’re making a mistake because there’s room for all these different mediums.

People are information-hungry. Things like iPads should be exciting if you’re interested in technology and photography. The accessibility that the internet, iPads and digital gives you is something that really fascinates a photographer like me. Photography should be about pushing forward with technology and utilising it.

A lot of people go on about the quality of images you get from analogue. But if you put two pieces of work in front of a person without the background on how they were taken, I defy 99 per cent of people to tell the difference between them. Technology, is like cameras, it’s just a tool. What you create and what you do with it is what counts.

You’ve put on various exhibitions but for me Rankin Live was your most accomplished not only because it was in part a 22 year retrospective or that it supported Oxfam (a charity close to my heart) but because you embraced technology and allowed the public to become a part of something out of the ordinary to be shot by you and placed on the wall alongside cultural hero’s, celebrities and royalty and  allowing the visitors of the exhibit to watch the process of how you work and shoot then shown to a wider audience via the Sky Arts channel. It was like a performance and in itself. Where did the idea of Rankin live come from?

The idea of Rankin Live came from technology. It was this idea that you could be in a gallery and take a photograph and it would come up on a big screen immediately.

I love that photography has gone from this passive medium to something inclusive and collaborative, and also something that could be a performance. With the gallery exhibition, I felt like I was at a turning point in my career, technology was really starting to change the way I took photographs so I wanted to mark that event with this retrospective.

I love that, with digital, you can work as part of a team. In the past, with analogue, you would be very much the person in power. No-one else could see what you were doing because you were the person looking through the lens. I love the fact that now you can look at it on a screen so everyone can feel part of the process and enhance the image you’re creating.

How has your relationship with photography changed over the years, from your college years to now?

Doing Rankin Live I realised there was a real thread in my work from the beginning to now, and it hasn’t really changed. The ideas and concepts, and the way I shoot are very similar.

I’ve embraced learning how to take better photos. Technically I’m a better photographer because of age. I’m still hungry to take more photos: and for the next photo to be the best I’ve ever taken.

Has there ever been a point at which you’ve fallen slightly out of love with taking pictures?

You do go through periods where it’s a bit of a strain. If you shoot every day, it becomes a job. I’ve never fallen out of love with photography, but I’ve got tired and exhausted by the process.

After my trip to the Congo, I felt quite selfish, because I got so much out of it. It reminded me how lucky I am. One of the most important things in life is to remind yourself how lucky you are every day. Being able to do what I do is a real blessing.

You’ve worked within fashion and still do, yet you prefer not to be called a fashion photographer, How would you describe your own work and the kind of field of photographer you prefer to work in and are most comfortable being labelled as?

I’m becoming more easy-going about being called a fashion photographer because I do take lots of fashion photos.

I fell out of love with fashion quite dramatically from 1999 to 2008. I was repelled by the preoccupation with what was cool and who was cool. It was too elitist.

I’ve always tried to have a democratic approach to photography. I don’t want my work to be inaccessible.

At the start of my career I was seduced by fashion, I loved it. Since then I’ve learned that I don’t have to be part of an elitist group to be able to take fashion photos. I’ve moved towards people who aren’t that way. Now I’m really happy to be a fashion photographer because it’s not just about a label, it’s ab[-‘out what you do with your photos.

What led you to the decision to start shooting feature films? I believe it’s a part of your career not many are too familiar with, yet you are an accomplished Music Video, Short film and feature film director.

I have always been seduced by feature films. Every photographer wants to direct a film, it feels like a natural progression, although the mediums are very different.

Having done it now, I’ve had to learn a whole new way of working which has actually enhanced my photography. So I’m really thankful to have had the chance to do it.

Photos are like poems, and films are like novels. As a poet you want to write a novel, as a novelist you want to write poem. They’re both simple extensions of each other but different mediums.

I found myself in a position where I could cross the boundary. The transition was hard, I had to learn all the techniques and language totally from scratch. But it was a fascinating process.

Do you see yourself making another feature anytime soon or in the near future?

I certainly do. In fact, I’m working on one at the moment. I can’t tell you too much about it, but it’s a thriller. I’m so excited, it’s taken me all this time – nearly five years – to have the guts to do it again.

‘The Lives of The Saints’ your first feature film which you co-directed with Chris Cottam is very interesting piece of cinema , for me especially as it featured area (Green Lanes, Haringey) in which I once lived, what was your decision for shooting there?

The script writer Tony Grisoni wrote most of the script in cafes around Green Lanes, north London. He took inspiration for the characters from people he’d see around him day to day in Green Lanes.

When we came to shoot the film, it seemed like the natural location. It’s such a multicultural tapestry, full of potential images. While we were shooting a scene in which a shop gets burgled, the real shop next door was actually getting burgled. The place has a dark edge to it.

It was funded largely by Meltin Pot and the characters where dressed in the brands clothing, this was subtly done, yet you mixed advertising into your film making surely influenced by your career working within and around fashion?

Meltin Pot funded the whole project so we had to promote the brand in some way within the film. The idea to dress the characters in the clothes was a subtle way of doing this successfully.

I think where the film fell down was because it didn’t have a specific genre. Saying that, it meant what we produced was totally original and stand-alone. Because we wanted to create something original, we pushed ourselves in a corner because it meant it wasn’t something people wanted to see for entertainment.

Do you think that due to coming from an accountancy background that effected your decision and awareness of commerciality and taking the route to become a photographer that works largely in advertising an overlooked art form which in my opinion communicates with a wider audience then say a piece in a gallery ?

My work is seen by a lot more people than that of so many artists. I have an accountancy background and a very commercial family. My parents had no relationship with the arts at all, so that did affect me.

I think most artists these days have to be entrepreneurs. If you want to get work seen, you have to sell yourself and your ideas. It’s selling in the same way adverts are selling. I don’t distinguish between the two.

You converted a house in Kentish Town into your studio, did you take on the role of architect and how do you feel comparing your studio to a factory in which both great ideas such as Rankin Live and photographic works of a wide range from ads to fashion shoots are born?

I worked very closely with an architect throughout the studio conversion. I love the idea of my studio being a factory I don’t think of art as something that is singular. It’s best to work with groups and teams of people. That’s the way I was brought up. It’s exciting to come up with an idea on Monday afternoon and shoot it Tuesday morning.

You work a lot with charity not just Oxfam but in the past also Woman’s Aid amongst others, please tell me a little about the work you do for the various organisations’?

I went to the Congo for Oxfam, to photograph displaced people affected by the unrest there. I was sick of seeing people in the developing world portrayed as victims in photographs, and I felt that we had become numb to it. I suggested that we went for something positive instead. I wanted people here to relate to people there, the expressions in their eyes and on their faces. It raised £1million for those camps.I believe in the work Oxfam does and try to support them as much as possible.

Domestic abuse is a subject that I feel strongly about. When I was approached to contribute to Woman’s Aid for their new campaign, I wanted to create images that were striking and would really stick in the viewers mind.

The head-and-shoulders portraits shot against a stark white background are reminiscent of the case-file photographs police use to record the injuries of battered wives, and highlight the terrible bruising that each actress had seemingly sustained. The use of celebrities in the campaign was in the hope that it would emphasise the fact that domestic violence can affect every woman, no matter what her age or situation.

Touching on abuse again the short film that you made ‘Perfect’ commented on domestic abuse but with the role reversal, I was once in a violent abusive relationship and this meant a lot to show focus on abuse coming from a woman instead of the man, how important was it to showcase this?

I made Perfect because I was in a similar relationship. I actually used it as a means of catharsis to help me understand why it happened, and how I could stop it happening again. It’s very important for people to know that men are abused in some relationships. There’s no excuse for violence. I was trying to show it’s a cycle. If you’re the person being abused you have to stop the relationship, stop the cycle.

Are you aware of any of the younger generation of photographers coming up that’s work you have respect for?

I love the work of Laurie Bartley and Matt Holyoak I think is really good – David Bailey’s not bad either!

Did you ever envision being as successful as you’ve become?

I still don’t think it’s real so I’m still striving to be successful. I look around and see I’m getting there. I’m nearly there but then sometimes a look around and pinch myself and think, fucking hell how did I get this far, and when are they gonna realise that I’m actually rubbish?!

What are your plans for 2011?

I’ve got loads of exciting projects coming up. I’ve got a fantastic show at the Milk gallery in New York around May, and then later in the year I’m hoping to open up a pop-up gallery in Los Angeles.

Are there certain ways of getting commissions?:

It depends on what kind of job it is for, ie. Editorial, Advertising, Look-book, PR, etc. The long and the short of it really is have a client liking your work. Clients will do this when they can relate to your style of imagery and recognise the merit of it, which will mean different things to different clients. So when building your portfolio bear in mind which clients you’d like to work with in the future and shoot images that loosely fit with their identity, whilst still imprinting your own style on it. Networking is very important here, get to know as many Art Directors, Picture Editors, Publicists, Designers and potential clients as possible. Clients are vastly more likely to commission you if they know you personally. The easier way to get commissioned work is through an agent, which is not easy. Agents will only take a photographer on if they can see that they’ll be able to sell their work (remember they work on commission), so again your portfolio needs to be of a high standard and be commercially relevant. When you’re starting out, clients won’t be coming to you, you’ll be hunting them down. Focus on getting good images published in quality magazines first even if it is for little or no money. This will build your reputation and will earn the trust of agents and clients and importantly, getting clients to see your images.

Who funds the shoot?

The client should always fund the shoot. Be prepared to fund your own personal projects though when starting out, photoshoots can be expensive.

Does the agency find the MUA, wardrobe, hair stylist, ect?

This depends on the job, but usually this is split between you and the client. If you are lucky enough to have an agent they can source these resources for you, but if you are at the stage where you have an agent you’ll likely have a good idea of who you’d like to work with. Wardrobe is always sourced by a stylist.

While l am still at University should l try to work with certain MUA’s ect to build up a relationship with them after l leave university?

Definitely, as well as stylists and hair & make-up artists. Photography is a team effort and if there’s a weak link in your team, it’ll show in your images.

Should l create a portfolio of images to take to an agency?

Definitely, and keep it as updated as possible. Build on it with as many personal projects as possible. Something to bear in mind with your portfolio is that it is the quality of images rather than quantity that is most important.

Tips for getting started?

Work in the industry as an assistant to a good photographer to start out. This helps immensely to get to know the industry and to build your contacts.


How does your intern system work?

We currently run 4 intern programs; Studio, Post Production, Archive and Film. With each internship you would be working alongside that particular part of the team for a 3 month period.

For more information about any of the placements please contact: questions@rankin.co.uk