John Rankin Waddell was born in Glasgow in 1966, but grew up in St Albans, Hertfordshire. If, like us, you know him by his middle name and his photographic work, you’ll be surprised to hear that he briefly studied accountancy at the Brighton Polytechnic Institute. Soon realising that his interests and talents lay elsewhere, Rankin moved to Barnfield College in Luton to study photography.
Later, while at the London School of Printing, he met the Uraguayan photographer Jefferson Hack. Upon graduation, they founded Dazed and Confused, a magazine covering fashion, music, film, art and literature. The publication has also supported social issues, and encourages debate, as in the Fashion-Able issue of 1998, questioning perceptions of beauty and disability, and 2004’s South Africa edition, which examined both the post-apartheid era, and the AIDS crisis in Africa. Rankin has also donated his own time to the publicity campaigns What’s It Going to Take, and Valentine’s Day, for the Women’s Aid charity.
With its founders willing to experiment and take risks, the monthly magazine developed a cult following, setting trends and providing a platform for young writers, designers, photographers and stylists. A Dazed Film and TV company followed in 1999, and in 2011, the Dazed Live festival brought music to East London. Rankin has also launched other periodicals.
In the last few years, Rankin has added television work to his portfolio. In BBC4’s 1999 documentary, Seven Photographs that Changed Fashion, he paid tribute to Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton and five others, interviewing photographers, models and assistants, and using contemporaries like Heidi Klum, Erin O’Connor and his wife Tuuli Shipster. He took part in the reality TV show Britain’s Missing Top Model, where eight young women with disabilities competed for a modelling contract. Part of the prize was a shoot with Rankin, and he still works regularly with the winner of the second series, Lianne Fowler. He was also a guest judge for Germany’s Next Topmodel. Other projects were South Africa in Pictures, and Jamie’s Dream School.
Cheryl Cole, Nelly Furtado and Azealia Banks are among music video clients, while ad campaigns include Rimmel, M&S, Hugo Boss, H&M with Madonna, Coca Cola, Umbro, Reebok and Nike. Nike and Bono’s R.E.D. commissioned Rankin for Lace Up Save Lives, raising awareness of HIV/AIDS. Television advertisements for Rimmel, and for the award-winning Dove’s Real Women, are other highlights.
In 2009, he invited people to take part in Rankin Live! at the Truman Brewery in London. Twenty two years of his output hung alongside fifteen hundred portraits of applicants, chosen for their quirky British style. Participants posed for their photographs, which were displayed after their visit, and then uploaded to a website. He commented: “It seems to me that if you’ve hung something on the wall, then it’s already art”.
Subjects have ranged from the Queen, Tony Blair and Damien Hirst, to U2, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Madonna, and from Leo di Caprio to Cate Blanchett, among many others. If you add the fashion shoots with Vivienne Westwood, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, it’s hardly surprising that Rankin has been labelled as a celebrity photographer. However, we look to his campaigning projects to prove that he is more than this. Neither does he care to be defined as a fashion photographer, feeling that it restrains him.
Although Rankin is proud of the beautiful images of models that he can create, admitting that he’s “seduced by the world of fashion”, he is annoyed by jobs that he calls “pretty shoots”, which he sees as shallow. He maintains that in his job, he needs to like people, to “look outside of the lens” and to make a connection before taking the photo – the camera’s just a tool. Light is very important, as “photography is about light”.
Not fitting into any framework, this photographer has emerged as one of the most multi-talented figures in the fashion world today. His passion and honesty can come across to us as arrogance, as he freely admits, but perhaps without that, he would lack the creative fearlessness that we think adds a unique quality to his photographs. As he points out, “I don’t set myself a goal of shocking people with my shoots. My goal is creativity, making works that concern and interest me”.
Featured photo and the two above: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley From The Book “Ten Times Rosie” By Paula Thomas
Miley Cyrus By Photographer Rankin
From “The Hunger” Issue 1
From Dazed “Myths, Monsters and Legends” By Damien Hirst Photography By Rankin
Courtney Photographed By Rankin Dazed & Confused, October 1994
Britney For Blender Magazine
Fashion Photography By Rankin