“When someone has some form of terminal illness or has had a near-death experience,” says Rankin, “their unique celebration of life is palpable.”
if you are one photographer Who has photographed countless pop stars, models and even the Queen, what is the next project on your agenda?
Rankin is one of the most successful portrait photographers in the world. He has photographed for Elle, Vogue, Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone, Wonderland and of course his own publication Dazed & Confused.
But he’s not photographing the Rolling Stones or Miley Cyrus for his latest project. He took photos of hemophiliacs.
More specifically, Rankin’s latest project was to create portraits for people with hemophilia for a new awareness campaign.Portraits of Progress‘.
Portraits of Progress
Hemophilia is a rare disease that affects one in 5,000 (hemophilia A) to 30,000 (hemophilia B) male births.
The campaign looks at the progression of treating hemophilia from its detection in the 1940s to those living with the disease today.
Rankin documented a group of hemophiliac patients and their travels. At first glance, the project is far from how many people would have come across his work.
“I’ve always been interested in them human condition‘ says Rankin. “As a photographer, it’s my bread and butter.
In recent years, Rankin has increasingly taken on charities and used his work to highlight causes close to his heart. He has become aware of Macmillan Cancer Support and Endometriosis among many other causes.
However, when he learned about hemophilia, he was struck by the seriousness of a disease that he thought he understood.
“I had no idea that the average age before medicine was only 20,” he tells me. When he found this out, he realized the importance of the positive impact of the story.
“When I photograph people over 20, they are essentially miracles of modern medicine,” he marvels.
After all, just a human
Many big names have posed in front of Rankin’s lens, from musical royalty like David Bowie to model queen Kate Moss to simple royalty.
Regardless, the aim of the project remains the same. Rankin’s glamorous style is an opportunity for someone to be captured by him absolutely best. To do this, he works with the person, making them comfortable and even letting them choose which image will be the final image.
“What I’m trying to do is apply what I do with celebrities to people who aren’t celebrities, to give them that iconic status,” he says. “You want them to walk away feeling like they have a great picture of themselves, it really represents them.”
It may sound harmless, but it’s a definite hallmark of Rankin’s style. Rarely does he accept the brusque frankness of some photographers. Instead, he solemnly leans into the portrait.
“I always try to bring out the best in the person,” he says. “Yeah, there might be a positive attitude that people might call high gloss or whatever, but I never look for the negative.”
While he accepts that his style is celebratory, he does not concede that he puts the issue on a pedestal. Instead, Rankin believes that a celebratory eye can best create an image in which the subject sees himself.
“I want the person to look through the lens and really connect with the audience, and for the lens and what I’m doing with it to almost disappear. My goal is to create a relationship between the person’s photo and the person looking at it. I’m a channel for that,” says Rankin.
cardboards of the queen
The path to the perfect picture is as varied as the people you work with. When it came to photographing his iconic image of Queen Elizabeth II in 2001, he’d spent the last 15 years photographing bands in their hotel rooms for five minutes.
“I was very nervous to photograph her because she was the most famous person in the world,” he admits. “But you get to the lowest common denominator, which is that she’s human. So there you just try to connect with them on a human level.”
They hit it off quickly and Rankin noticed her sense of humor. When she laughed as a piece of his camera fell off during filming, he saw the humanity he was looking for.
The shoot was a success and he sent three versions to the palace for approval. For the final image, Rankin placed a Union Jack behind her in a cheeky tribute to Jamie Reid, the anarchic artist who designed the Sex Pistols logo.
“At the same time, I was a really big fan of her as a person. So I kind of played with the idea that she’s an icon, that there’s a human under the surface,” explains Rankin.
Rankin’s sense of humor has often been used on film. “Madonna told me I chose you because the people in the photos you take look like they are having a good time,” he says.
“Well, then you have to be a stand-up comedian for Madonna,” says Rankin.
The man behind the lens
This all leads to the basics of Rankin’s philosophy for his art. He doesn’t want to sell products or engage in advertising or marketing. “We sell humanity,” he says.
But where is Rankin’s own humanity in all of this? As he attempts to capture each person on their best day, the fingerprint of the artist’s own humanity will surely leave a mark.
While he notes that throughout a career he can recall shoots where he had a difficult time, he has no interest in documenting his own thoughts on an off-screen shoot himself.
“You feel a bit like you’re some kind of priest,” he says. “I’m not religious, but there is a circle of trust or FriendDA,” he jokes about non-disclosure agreements.
Despite his admittedly large personality, however, Rankin believes that his efforts to collaborate with his subjects give them an autonomy and control over their work that dulls the impact of his portfolio’s subject, which is ultimately the artist himself.
“My power was in coming together, not taking from people. I was brought up really well. I don’t think my parents would ever want me to take anything from anyone,” he says.
The decision to take photos for the hemophilia project fits perfectly into his philosophy.
“I think being an icon is a game. I think making hemophiliacs who are going through hell into stars and icons and putting them on the same level as a celebrity is really interesting to me,” says Rankin.