Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 18:17 UK

'I want to photograph everyone'

Rankin

By Caroline Briggs
Arts reporter, BBC News

A retrospective of Rankin's work, featuring over 600 photographs, has opened in London. Running in tandem is Shoot Me, Rankin!, an ambitious project which will see the celebrated photographer shoot 1,000 members of the British public for the gallery walls.

As a photographer, Rankin has modest ambitions.

"If I could photograph everyone in the world it would be amazing," he laughs. "Impossible, obviously, but amazing."

"Imagine that - everyone in the world on a database of photography, not simply to recognise people, but as an understanding of human beings. It would be great."

Since co-launching style bible Dazed & Confused during the height of Cool Britannia, rock stars, royalty, Hollywood stars and politicians have rocked up to be photographed by Rankin.

He is prolific - a self-confessed workaholic, or, as he puts it, "visually voracious", as the walls of his retrospective show at the Truman Brewery testify.

Caroline Briggs. Copyright: Rankin

They are a visual who's-who of contemporary celebrity culture. Where else could you find a serious and staring Tony Blair just centimetres away from artist Damien Hirst draped in rashers of bacon?

But that's Rankin's secret ingredient. Not bacon, but the ability to make people want to work with him.

Highlights from his 20-odd year career - the erotica, fashion, colourful beauty, smattering of supermodels - are a visual feast not afraid to challenge the viewer.

"I want people to come here and see that I've been around for a while. I'm not a kid any more," Rankin explains.

"I don't think people know what I'm about or the breadth of my work, or how many genres of photography I have worked in.

"People think I am a celebrity photographer, or a fashion photographer, or a nude photographer. But when you see it all like this you start to understand I'm not really any of those things, I'm a mixture of all of them.

I'm not trying to make fools out of them. My work is always a collaboration. I'm treating them like people, not celebrities
Rankin

"I'm not just a photographer, I'm more than that, and I use photography as a medium to take ideas and execute them and try and throw up lots of debate and discussion and humour."

Humour is a thread that runs through Rankin's work.

Whether it's model Heidei Klum posing in Minnie Mouse ears, Robbie Williams walking on water, or Hugh Grant posing next to a naked mannequin, they all demonstrate the trust the have in him as an artist and commentator on contemporary culture.

"I'm not trying to make fools out of them," Rankin explains. "My work is always a collaboration. I'm treating them like people, not celebrities.

"It is not putting people on pedestals, not treating them as if they are more important because they are famous, is refreshing and I think that's what people want.

"The celebrities want that, and I think that the people looking at photographs want that as well.

"They don't want to look at a super-airbrushed image of someone that doesn't have any conceivable air of reality in it.

Rankin photographs Ian McKay
Ian McKay travelled from Glasgow for his shoot

"I think if you are going to treat people like they are normal, then make fun of the process of photography, combine that with having a lot of humour and having a laugh, and you get more interesting photographs."

Cynics say Rankin plays the PR card too cleverly, but for the thousands of people who have applied to take part in Shoot Me Rankin, he can do no wrong.

He is about halfway through shooting 1,000 "ordinary" people who have been selected for their distinct style or vibrant personalities. Over the next few weeks he will shoot 500 more at the gallery.

They will have their hair and make-up done before going in front of the lens and visitors can watch the results in real time on a big screen. It's Rankin. Live.

One-off chance

Ian McKay, a visual merchandise worker, flew from Glasgow after being chosen to take part.

"Rankin's photography is just fantastic and I really admire his work," he explains.

"I used to sit and sketch out his photograph of Richard Ashcroft when I was at college, so when the opportunity came up I just went for it. It's a total one-off."

Rankin didn't start the project for the feel-good factor it has given him, but he admits it has been a stirring side-effect.

"I'm trying to democratise the gallery environment and make the people I photograph for Rankin Live! as important as people who are as part of my retrospective," he explains.

"I did it because I thought it would be a challenge, and I thought it would be interesting.

"But the response from people has been really gratifying. People have said to me 'That's the best picture I have ever seen of me, and you've made me feel so much better about myself'. That feels really good.

"I really, really want the person I'm photographing to be happy with it, and that I'm happy with.

"I love what I do and I want to take good photographs... not bad photographs."

Rankin Live! runs at the Truman Brewery, London, until 18 September.



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