Co-Founder of Dazed and Confused, Founder of Hunger & Rankin Film - We Need To Talk About Rankin.
Interview by Giorgio Grande, Photographs © Rankin.
Article originally written for Voir Fashion magazine Issue 23.
The proverb gods say that you should never meet your heroes. However, they say nothing about interviewing them. It is with a heady cocktail of disbelief and pleasure, therefore, that I speak to Rankin. Read what he has to say on the 90s, his ‘Nineties’ music video for Busted and the power of youthful indignation. The co-founder of Dazed and Confused, founder of Hunger, Rankin Film, and seminal fashion photographer, Rankin has secured his place in the canon of single-name icons. Along with Cher, Björk, Twiggy and Bono, Rankin proves that a single word can invoke a million. Rankin has changed the landscape of the fashion industry, directed provocative campaigns, and manages to be cool in the only way you can be – without trying.
GG: Rankin, at Voir, we owe a lot to you, a pioneer of British fashion publishing. What inspired you to launch Dazed and Confused, and later publish Rank, Another, Another Man and then Hunger?
Rankin: With Dazed it felt like a right place right time situation. It was the early 90s and there was this strange synchronicity between the way Jefferson and myself where looking at the world, the YBA art movement, this push of independent British bands and young actors at the vanguard of the British Film Industry. It was a moment where you could look around and see that there was a voice to our generation which needed to be formed. We of course
loved and were influenced by magazines like Interview and The Face but we felt like we had something to say too, and, maybe a bit narcissistically, we thought people would want to hear it. Whilst I’ve always been a photographer it was at college I knew I was also a publisher. I met Jefferson doing a student union magazine and everything with us just clicked. Going on to publish Rank, Another and Hunger it all comes from that. Dazed was amazing as we always held at its heart a way to showcase the new and the unknown and every magazine I’ve started has had that in it. I
want to show and share new talent and amazing visuals and style - magazines have been my way to promote not only myself but the exciting things around me.
Far Left: Rankin, Left: Blur © Rankin
We like to think that the Voir reader doesn’t follow fashion, but dismantles it. We cater to the irreverent, the youthful rebel. Do you think that today’s youth has a duty to challenge authority?
People talk about culture in the 90s as though it was a working class rebellion, but that wasn’t really what was happening. The Blur vs Oasis story in the press was sold as middle class kids against the working class guys done good - but the reason it was so exciting was that we had two amazing young bands shaking up the music status quo.
It was young people telling the world this is what British culture is. I would hate to think that this is just something
from our past. Young people have to question, they have to look around and ask why is the world the way it is, why is fashion so elitist? why is culture like this? Without contrary voices, there is no progression and it’s part of the reason why millennials get a bad rap. They are asking for a more liberal, more even world and that’s exciting. I’ve always used my photography as a way to question norms in the photography industry - I did shoots about thin models called “Hungry?” and photographed plus sized models and gender neutral models before either were part of the fashion-norm. It’s great to think that younger creatives today cannot just accept the world is how they have been told it is.
I loved your documentary, ‘Seven Photographs that Changed Fashion.’ Would you say that there’s a unifying element that makes great fashion photography stand above its competition?
Really great work in any creative field exists beyond its medium, when it reflects the society it represents. People buy into it as cultural documents that reflect their lives. The best fashion photography tells a story, it gives you an idea/critique of the world at the time.
Although photography is the perfect medium to fully capture a single moment in time, you have a way of capturing the essence of your sitter. How do you go about this?
I like to get people to relax when I take their photo. Very few people are actually comfortable in front of a camera, so building a rapport with the sitter is key to get their personality to come through. When I look at an image of someone I want to feel a connection with them.
Far Left: Rankin, Left: Blur © Rankin
Damage © Rankin
Your ‘What’s it Going to Take?’ poster campaign, launched in 2007, is an example of some of your most arresting and impactful work. You’ve also shot the Dove ‘Real Woman’ campaign. With the significance of the #metoo movement, it’s apparent that the need to spotlight the problem of domestic violence and women’s issues is still profound. Do you have any plans to work on more projects with an overtly feminist agenda?
I’ve always felt if you’re in a position to shine a light on a topic it is your social obligation to do it. I’m never going to shy away from making those important statements and promoting these issues which I feel are so important. Coincidentally I’ve just done a very powerful project with FGM.
On a lighter note, we love your direction of Busted’s ‘Nineties’ music video. What drew you to the project?
I first shot Busted in 2004 for Band Aid 20 and loved how down to earth and easy to shoot they were - they didn’t take themselves too seriously. So, when I got the chance to do the Nineties video I immediately knew it was a project I wanted to work on. There is something infectious about their personalities and with such a catchy song it was always going to be a great video to work on.
You’ve said that the ‘Nineties’ video is designed to make people feel good. This absolutely shows, and it is both cheeky and referential. Are there any references that you wanted to include but didn’t make the cut?
We wanted to reference Oasis, as we all love them, but it didn’t quite fit in. I’m sure I’ll get another chance
at some point.
At Voir, we love the 90s, and the many things it stands for. It was a time of pluralism, where disparate styles could exist at once. Yet, with your work at Dazed, you helped to inform the aesthetic of the time. What does 90s fashion mean to you?
Awh man – I can’t answer that. it meant so much at the time, but now I look back and I don’t even remember it. The thing is my photos were never really about the clothes per se but what the idea behind the shoot was. I’m actually not that good a fashion photographer because I don’t care enough about the fashion itself, but about how seductive the imagery is.
Above Left: Hunger 8, 2015, Cry Baby;
Left: Hunger11, 2016, Birdsong © Rankin
Hunger 11, 2016,
It’s A Small World © Rankin
90s nostalgia is huge. Why do you think 90s culture is so pertinent to contemporary youth?
I think there is something about the self-expression of the 90s which means a lot to people now. The ‘I can be whatever I want to be attitude’ is very exciting and attractive. We all felt it at the time and I think that you can see that in the work we did, the way we partied, etc. etc. The funny thing is in the 90’s we all had the same thing about the 60’s.
Is there anyone that you haven’t yet photographed, who you’d love to?
There are definitely people on my list who I’d love to photograph. I’m obsessed with large personalities so part of me would love the chance to photograph Trump. But if I could pick someone who it would be an honour to photograph, then it would defo be Obama.
You say that your favourite person to photograph is your wife. How does having a relationship with the sitter affect your approach to photography?
Funnily enough I used to hate photographing partners, but when I met Tuuli that all changed. We have a short hand with each other that makes it easy and because I love everything about her personality and physicality, it is still always exciting.
You can watch Rankin’s ‘Nineties’ video for Busted below, and read more about his contributions to the fashion industry in our review of ‘Rankin: Unfashionable – 30 Years of Fashion Photography.’