Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 11:21 UK

What's it like to be Ranked?

By Caroline Briggs
Arts reporter, BBC News

The starriest of star photographers, Rankin, is turning his lens on the Great British public for his latest project, Rankin Live! He will photograph 1,000 people for the walls of his latest exhibition in London. But what is it like to be one of them?

Caroline Briggs. Copyright: Rankin

By my reckoning, I'm 400-and-something. Somewhere past 450, not quite the magic 500, but I am about to become a number in celebrity photographer Rankin's latest project Rankin Live!

I've arrived at the Old Truman Brewery, off London's Brick Lane, where, over the next few weeks, Rankin will reach his target, photographing people selected for their "distinct sense of style, vibrant personality or individual life story".

So far, I have watched a curvaceous lady in hotpants and fishnets get the Rankin treatment. Another woman in a green dress danced to Ultravox throughout her shoot. In a black top and jeans I am decidedly more sedate.

After a pampering hair and make-up session, where I'm given curls and dangerously dark "smoky eyes", it's time for me to go on the polystyrene-built set. It wobbles menacingly and it's the only thing that makes me worried. I am, after all, in good hands.

"Oh. I liked your hair up," says Rankin as he shakes my hand in greeting, referring to the scraggy ponytail I sported on arrival. "Never mind, you can always hold it up."

Wind machine

Surrounded by achingly stylish assistants, all moving together instinctively, Rankin is handed his ready-primed camera and off we go.

One assistant shines an intensely bright interrogation light directly at my face, another holds a wind machine whipping my hair into a frenzy. A third does, well, something. I can't see for the bright light in my eyes. It is all very surreal.

All I focus on is the oversized lens that's focused on me, and the voice emitting directions behind it. Rankin intersperses the directions with friendly banter, and a smattering of compliments, all designed to put me at ease.

"How old are you?" he asks. I tell him and he's surprised, bless him, cheerfully knocking at least a decade off my real age. "I thought you were 18."

I break into a little-too-grateful smile, but only after the lens has safely snapped shut. "You don't like smiling, do you?" True, but I'm tempted to flash some teeth just to keep him happy.

"You've got strong features. Where are you from?" Newcastle, I tell him. "I thought you were Danish or something."

Ordinary people

"Oooh.. You looked tough on that shot."

"That's because I'm from Newcastle."

"Should I be scared?"

"I could have you any day."

Rankin wants to give his everyday subjects a moment of feeling special

We chat about my twin sister, and my granny, Rankin's curious mind constantly asking questions. None are too intrusive, all designed to relax me and help Rankin get the shot he is looking for.

Despite the shoot taking just a few minutes it's obvious Rankin cares about the final image. Clearly he wants people to feel good about their portrait.

It is why celebrities like Kate Moss, Britney Spears, David Bowie, Oasis and Kylie have queued up to work with him. And for a few minutes at least I know exactly how Ms Moss et al feel.

But that is exactly what Rankin is trying to do for us ordinary mortals in Rankin Live!

He wants to deconstruct celebrity, to demystify something that has defined contemporary culture, and give everyone a taste of what it feels like.

After the shoot, I watch as my image is worked on by one of Rankin's assistants on a giant computer screen. A blemish magically disappears from my chin and the polished, shiny, slightly unreal me is off to the printer.

At the end of the project I will be just one of 1,000 faces on the wall, but I'm sure my fellow 999 subjects will have felt just as special during their 15 minutes with Rankin.

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