The Cartel visited Photo London in its debut year. The photography fair, held at the magnificent Somerset House, housed several photography galleries. We met with Rankin during the photo London program and May Barber had the chance to visit Rankin, had her portrait taken in his studio and interviewed him about his unique journey in fashion photography.
Photo London and A Visit with Rankin
On my agenda this year was visiting Photo London, a largely curated photo fair taking place in London for the first time this past May 2015. Referred to by some as the new rivalry to Paris photo, I had to go and see for myself especially when the venue is the neoclassical landmarked Somerset House. Going through the many halls and snapping photos of the Miles Staircase, a must-see architectural dazzle of intricate steel mesh connecting 5 levels in the West Wing of Somerset House. I went through decades of photography from vintage black and white to contemporary underwater photograms with massive offerings of 80 of the world’s leading photo galleries. The fair was relatively big but super organized and inviting. As I was browsing the halls, I waived at Simon Baker, Senior Curator of Photography and International Art at Tate Modern as he was leading a tour and I later had a coffee with Artist Steve Macleod, the man behind one of UK’s top Photo Production Companies. The VIP invite came with a delicious menu of side events taking place alongside the fair; most notably was a visit with Rankin at his own studio and I knew I couldn’t miss it.
On the journey to Kentish Town, an underground hip area of factories and rock pubs in North London, I was going through Rankin’s work on the web featuring an impressive list of portraiture works from Kate moss to the Queen of England; portraits loud and characteristic much like the artist himself. I arrived at his studio on time sporting my must-go-for look from the cARTel, an oversized Rad Hourani Jacket teamed with a black turtle-neck and a pants from Chalayan cropped in the right areas and added a final touch of an architectural clutch from Rula Ghalayini. As soon as I had the introduction with Rankin, he surprised me with a very generous offer: ‘would you like to have your photo taken?’ Taken by surprise I was lead to where supermodels and movie stars posed for Rankin’s camera. One of his assistants admirably grabbed my clutch with excitement and I posed there in my 60 seconds of fame while Rankin’s team took the photo and projected it on the studio wall massively blown in scale with the right contrasts of black and white. Following the photo sessions of the guests, we were invited to take our seats to hear Rankin speak about the evolution of Rankin, the exciting array of projects he has done and the time he shot the queen.
I later got in touch with Rankin to learn more about his insights on art, photography, the new game changing dynamics and of course the good old days of Dazed And Confused.
We’ve met in London during the Reception and Talk hosted in your studio during London Photo Fair, a fair described by some as the rivalry of Paris photo. What were your thoughts on the fair? Any new artists caught your eye?
Photo London was one of my favourite events of the year. I think they’ve really captured the spirit of photography in London and I’m very excited to be part of it next year as well. The size of the fair was a bit overwhelming so I didn’t really go looking for new artists, but I thought William Eggleston’s black and white work presented by the ROSEGALLERY was outstanding.
Who are your favourite fashion designers of all times? Does fashion design help construct a better image?
Everything helps construct a better image. Whether it’s the model, make up, hair, styling, fashion or colours. The great thing about it is it becomes more than the sum of its parts. As for favouite designers, i do love most of the things Miuccia Prada does.
You describe yourself in your beginnings as ‘the weird kid who did not fit in’. Are the social codes to ‘fit in’ society getting harder nowadays? Has the photo sharing phenomenon increased that challenge?
Tough question. It not that I didn’t fit in, it’s that I didn’t feel like I fitted in. But I’ve always thought those on the outside make the most interesting work. It means you can create your own scene, your own platform, with a do-it-yourself attitude. That leads to creating something new.
Photo sharing is as exciting as it is scary and dangerous. We’re in unchartered territory. It’s certainly changed the way people use photography but it’s also got a lot more people interested in photography, which is a good thing. It’s swings and roundabouts.
You are often asked about the Dazed old days where you and Jefferson Hack created something that altered the course of fashion publications and challenged leading institutions. Would you say it was a random arrival or a natural reaction to what Britain and Europe were going through at a time? Did you intend that change?
We certainly started out to do something different. But of course we had no idea that it would be so big. The difference for us was that we were trying to affect change and challenge conventions as opposed to just reporting on it like other magazines. What Britain and Europe were going through at the time influenced that and we couldn’t really have done it at any other time. We were in the right place at the right time with the right tools at our disposal. But if we hadn’t wanted to do things differently and be creators rather than reporters, then nothing would have happened.
In the light of social media where everyone is an aspiring photographer, is photography still an art form? Does it still enjoy the same position it used to have?
Strangely enough, I think it’s made it ore of an art form. This new media gives people respect for photography and an interest in it. But it means that people think they understand it because they can take a good picture on Instagram. It doesn’t work like that. I studied for six years to be a photographer. I did art history, photography, history and all the technical stuff. You can’t learn that on an iPhone.
I love that people are excited about photography but it means that proper photographs taken by proper photographers and artists have more relevance now than ever. As David Bailey said, all of these millions of new photographs made, it means there are just loads more shit ones. I’m paraphrasing there.
Do we still archive/ document beauty using photography? Would you agree that we are we storing our lives on virtual servers of phone cameras and social media?
Yes, I think lots of people are but I think that all of these new people taking photographs on their phones means that there will be new photographers. The dust will settle and the good stuff will rise to the surface.
What are your thoughts on the rising stars of fashion icons vs. the golden icons of the eighties?
Not much to be honest with you. My interest is always in quality; if something is good, if something is exciting, then it doesn’t have to be new to be intersting to me. Look at Vivian Mier, her work is extraordinary.
What do you enjoy more Fashion Photography or Fashion Films? Do you think one might take over the other?
I love them both. Fashion film is new, it’s exciting and it will be genre defining. But I obviously still think photographs are powerful and fashion photography shoots are really very exciting to me. I’m lucky that I can do both and bring the same amount of quality and belief to each of them. After all, there is a lot of shit out there, especially in fashion films.
What are your views on the new channels of fashion communication: the bloggers, instagrammers, snapchatters sharing streaming from shows, models directly sharing their photos and dailys to their followers… etc. What’s next for fashion communication and how does that affect the role of traditional fashion journalism?
This is the big debate isn’t it? I call it state of play. As with photography, I think the good stuff will rise to the surface and I welcome that. As long as people are trying to do their best then the best will come out.
But again, there is a lot of crap out there getting noise and attention. The saddest thing is that very, very talented people are losing their jobs but fashion, art and culture keep moving forward and changing. You can’t ignore that. You can’t live in the past.
You have done a lot of successful collaborations highlighting charities and causes including your collaborations with British Skin Foundation, Breakthrough Cancer, Women’s Aid to name a few. Are there any plans to collaborate with institutions focused on the Current Refugees Crisis in the World for instance? Do you have any special causes that are dear to your heart?
No, I don’t have any current plans to work on that but I would love to. I truly believe that photography and film can change people’s perceptions and open their minds to all the imbalance in the world. So, I always say yes if I believe in something and feel like I can help. I’m just not sure whato to do with it yet.
I’ve been considering it for a while now!
Have you been to Dubai/ The UAE before? If so, what are your thoughts on its architecture and landscape? Would you do a fashion shoot in the desert of Dubai?
Yes, I’ve been to Dubai and I loved it. I felt like I was in a Ridley Scott movie.
Photographically speaking I’d love to work there; the light, the architecture, all of it is fascinating to me. Somebody just needs to ask.
Who would you photograph from the Middle East (preferably not nude!) and why?
I think we all sat up and paid attention when Sheika Mayassa Al Thani was named the most powerful person in art, topping the ArtReview Power 100. Some see it as symbolic of art being a commodity but it fascinates me the way Qatar are essentially building a culture from scratch with museums and galleries rising out of the desert. And not any old culture, either. It’s being done on an unprecedented scale; Cezanne, Rothko, Warhol, Lichenstein, Bacon, Hirst… they’re all there.