One of my favorite contemporary photographers: Rankin

Posted on 04.09.2011

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Most people don’t know this about me, but I kind of disdain famous art and artists, in general. Well, maybe that’s something that people might figure out after talking to me. If there are two things I hate with a passion (and I don’t use the word ‘hate’ very often. It’s too strong most of the time), they are a false sense of entitlement and unnecessary notoriety.

What I mean by that is, in today’s world, there are so many artists that are SO famous, and most of it is just hype. And the general public is confused (in general) about what constitutes good art, and what constitutes fame. They’re usually too afraid to make the ‘wrong decision’ about a field they know next to nothing about, so they end up buying that Kincaid painting because half of their neighbors ALSO have Kincaid-esque crap on their walls above their couches in the living room (this is where my parents had THEIR ‘beach, sand dunes + lighthouse painting’). On the other side, there are a million and five people trying to make it big in every five-block section of NY and LA, and they already have it in their minds that they’re big shit, even if their work is only mediocre at best.

It’s a circular process. Good art goes to heaven, and bad art goes everywhere. Andy Warhol sits in the middle with a bag of popcorn and laughs at the hilarity of it all. It’s just like design. You can’t throw a rock without hitting something designed with Comic Sans over here in Germany.

But then there are artists like Rankin. Artists who are successful in their field, like to take risks, try new things, and execute beautifully.

I don’t remember EXACTLY when I came across his work, but I remember falling MADLY in love with a very specific series that he did, called Dead Fashionable. It’s not something he’s showing on the portfolio site anymore since it was made in like ’99 and he’s done a ton of work since then, but it’s still one of my favorites. If I EVER had the opportunity to buy one of these prints, I would do it. But alas, they’re a bit hard to find these days.

You can read all about Rankin, and his really extensive biography HERE on his portfolio site. You can also check out all of his more recent stuff there, including an ENTIRE book full of 8 years of photos of the lovely Heidi Klum (who I also love), a few projects featuring his super excellent model wife, and a few series benefitting the Congo and other African refugees.

Rankin has, quite literally, gone everywhere and done everything. All of this work from a ‘fashion photographer’. If he had ever settled and been JUST that, I wouldn’t love his work. But it’s the fact that he goes above and beyond his call of duty to get out and make great images that makes me love everything that comes out of his darkroom.

When I fell in love with Dead Fashionable, I was most certainly in college, just getting into photography, and more than likely living with Gaby. I bought a book of his (Snog, a book of close-up photos of people kissing, it is excellent and dirt cheap) almost the next day. So I guess that puts me in late 2001/early 2002.

I had seen Dead Fashionable as an editorial photo spread in a magazine. It was probably a fashion or photo mag, as I was reading both at the time. I loved it so much, that I used it in my OWN design project that year, which was to re-design LIFE magazine. I designed the entire project around this photo series, I loved it so much.

It’s dark. It’s creepy. It goes way outside the box to show models in fashionable clothing.

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Yes, this work also speaks to me on that dark, twisted and murderous underside that most of my friends only see once in a while. But I love that he executed it. That these are all completely controlled situations, and nowhere near real.

But in the same sense, these are some of the more realistic fashion photography shots I’ve ever seen. They’re not made up. They’re not gritty. The outfits aren’t even THAT amazing. In fact, the images look more like scenes from CSI or SVU than anything else. They look like they could have actually happened.

We’re not focused AT ALL on how pretty the girl is. Maybe it’s wrong to pull the focus away from that when it comes to pretty girls who get paid to be pretty and wear awesome things, but I love that these photos might not push any young girl to want to vomit twice daily.

I love that Rankin’s work doesn’t strive to be overly ‘pretty’. I love that in most everything, even the model shots, there is grit. There’s emotion, there’s attitude, there’s a fetishistic undertone that you don’t find with most fashion photographers.

I’m not against artists like Lachapelle, who go over the top in the fashion/candy/plastic image department. That’s what David does, and he does it really effing well.

I just happen to really, really appreciate Rankin’s approach to making images. He knows when to work the model as simply the model, and he knows where to cross the line, spray paint it pink, and do something wrong.

Maybe that’s the kind of risk success allows a person to take. But looking back at all of his work over time, it seems as if that’s what got him to where he is now in the first place.

To add to this, he seems thoroughly unimpressed by fame and completely down to earth. He once put an ad in the paper for a series and just took whoever answered. Um, awesome.

Kudos to Rankin. For doing it all and doing it well. And being a major role model for photographers, even the ones who aren’t interested in doing fashion work.

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