Nurturing Inspiration Over A Decade: Rankin

Nurturing Inspiration Over A Decade: Rankin

Finding the creativity and inspiration to succeed as a premier fashion and editorial photographer is hard enough, keeping it up for more than three decades is a completely different story altogether. Rankin's new show at 180 Studios is a retrospective of Rankin's first decade of work at Dazed and Confused, one of photography's most influential magazines.

Across a ten-year period, from 1991-2001, Rankin photographed over 200 iconic editorials for Dazed and Confused. I had a chance to ask Rankin a few questions about this stage in his career. I was most interested in how he managed to continually up the stakes as a creative for such a sustained period while working with some of the most dominant personalities in music.

If you're in the neighborhood, 180 Studios in London is hosting the retrospective. If not, enjoy the Rankin images below.

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 16, 1995. Bjork, Nanu, Nanu.

More Than Just Visuals: Have a Message

According to Rankin, his work from this period forms a manifesto about how to view the world, a political statement communicated not with words but with a camera lens. I was curious what Rankin sees as some of the biggest statements he's trained his camera on over the years. I was surprised that Rankin didn't zero in on the issues you might assume, those that have taken a front and center seat in his work: LGBTQIA+, Women’s Aid and Macmillan (domestic abuse issues), HIV/AIDS, or Oxfam. Instead, Rankin explained that at the heart of his work is the human condition. Of course, as a photographer, Rankin is dealing with a visual medium, and he'd never be happy if the message was heavy-handed and overwhelmed the visuals. For Rankin, concept and aesthetic need to always marry. Whether he's shooting a famous celeb or an anonymous kid in the Congo, Rankin is trying to tell a story about what it is to be human, living in our world.

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 11, 1995. Richard E. Grant, Like A Rhinestone Loudboy.

His constant investigation into the human condition opens Rankin up to new ideas, leads him down new pathways, and spurs his creativity. I suppose you could say that the human condition is his muse.

Competition as a Motivator

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 15, 1995. Pulp, It's A Wrap.

Dazed and Confused, now just Dazed, was established by Rankin and Jefferson Hack in 1991. Still in production, Dazed has been operating for well over 30 years. Given the length of Rankin's involvement, I was curious how he managed to keep the creative edge he's known for. As with many at the top of their game, Rankin attributes competition as a driving force within his creative drive.

The thing that really kept it fresh, was the team's internal competition to have their ideas and work printed in the magazine.

Rankin explained that all of the contributors to Dazed and Confused benefited from a tension and jeopardy arising from a group of really creative people working together and encouraging each other, which kept everything very fresh. Rankin and his team pushed each other to do better work, often competing over the bragging rights of getting more space in, or the cover of, any given issue. While Rankin was just starting out in the medium, the development of his own unique vision was a blank canvas. Dazed was a place to experiment, to be naively fearless, as Rankin put it. Certainly, cutting-edge creativity isn't born in comfort.

Naively Fearless.

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 46, 1998. Helen Mirren, Mirren, Mirren On The Wall.

Collaboration With Other Creatives

Working with other creatives, especially when they have the artistic gravitas and epic personas of David Bowie, U2, Björk, Vivienne Westwood, Thom Yorke, or Damien Hirst, is bound to place limits on vision. After all, how do you compete with the image of an already established cultural icon? In our conversation, Rankin positioned himself as a collaborative photographer. Rankin explained that his goal is to work with his subjects as collaborators. Working closely with the individual subject means that Rankin and his subjects end up with better outcomes. Rankin did note that the celebrities who don't seem to be interested in collaborating with a bigger vision are those that don’t seem to last the test of time.

There must be something to this collaboration and lifting each other up.

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 19, 1996. Them Yorke, You Do It To Yourself.

The shot of Thom Yorke from Radiohead came about from an idea that Hack and Rankin had about getting a musician to interview themselves. Rankin explains that Yorke went for it completely and consequently, the images are personal, funny, and iconic of Yorke's persona.

One of the greatest compliments Rankin receives is when people tell him that the quintessential image of a celebrity for them turns out to be one of his pictures.

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 68, 2000. Michael Stipe, Revolution In The Head.

Interested in his work with massive talents, I was curious about Rankin's process for collaborating with these legends. In terms of his process, Rankin typically comes up with ideas and presents them to his subjects. In doing so, Rankin relies heavily on empathizing with their already established brand identity. He's looking to create images that are a deep reflection of his subject. Rankin is always interested in finding his celebrity sitters' personality in the final images. With this goal in mind, from his own perspective, it wouldn’t benefit him to push them to be something they aren’t.

I am a big believer in creative conversation, to paraphrase William Blake: “without contraries there is no progression."

In the end, creative success is the product of working with people that are prepared to be honest with you, to push you, and to expand your vision. For Rankin, there is no point in working with people that just do what you want.

Rankin, Dazed and Confused, Issue 30, 1987. U2, Twisting My Lemon Man.

What do you think makes a better motivator and creative muse: collaboration, fear, competition? A combination of these?

All images used with the permission of Rankin.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

Log in or register to post comments