There are few living photographers who are as prolific as Rankin. From fashion spreads, celebrity portraiture, short films and music videos to documentary filmmaking and publishing (his latest book, Open, is out now), the British super-snapper leaves no medium unexplored. During his 24-year career, Rankin has built a diverse portfolio with his cunning eye for innovation and boldly charged style. After co-founding the groundbreaking fashion monthly Dazed & Confused in 1992 with Jefferson Hack, the acclaimed duo introduced AnOther Magazine and AnOther Man in 2001 and 2005 respectively, forming a trio of highly influential titles. Today, London-based Rankin is a regular collaborator with Oxfam, turning his lens to underexposed areas of Africa on philanthropic missions.
Since you first co-founded Dazed & Confused in 1992, what has been the biggest change in publishing?
“The multi-platform aspect of reaching audiences. The reality is that if you’re publishing now, you’re also creating a website to back up that printed media. When I started, a magazine came out once a month and it was a big deal—now your readers expect more information on a daily basis. I think one of the most interesting things at the moment is the tablet. I’m surprised that people like Condé Nast are investing so much money in them because I think that readers like to have a tangible object. I believe in the digital revolution, I believe in filming becoming cheaper and photography becoming digital, but I do think that if you’re producing work to a very high standard, people will want to collect it. Myself, I’m looking around my office, and I’ve got tons of books. If [brands are] smart, then they have to be able to deliver multi-platform content.”
Which platform are you looking to explore next with your work?
“I’m very excited about the development of fashion film, and I’ve set up within Dazed & Confused a TV web channel called Dazed TV. We’ve been investing a lot of time in short films because I think that there’s going to be an explosion of filmmaking in the next five years from young directors that have the potential to create very good, content-driven work. Once you’re in [this field], it’s incredibly competitive to stay at the top, but I do love that level playing field. It makes you reinvent yourself and work harder.”
You’re renowned for getting unconventional shots from people the public is accustomed to seeing in one specific light—from Lindsay Lohan to Prince William. What is your secret?
“I don’t analyze it too much because what you’re always striving for when you take a photograph of someone is your vision of them. I’ve been brought up to look at the world with as honest a pair of eyes as I can. I don’t really suffer from that sycophant attitude towards celebrity. Although I like to make people look good, I want them to be interesting and I think that has a lot to do with trust.”
Does this skill at getting people to open up have anything to do with the title of your latest book, Open?
“I like wordplay. It’s like an open book. Come in, we’re open! I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve and I’m very open about my ideologies, feelings and emotions. I’m certainly not scared to ask people to do things for the camera.”
How do you still push the boundaries in your work?
“I used to think about pushing boundaries more than I do now. A lot of the ideas that have come out of my work have been me following my instincts and not preconceiving what might be shocking to people. Photography can be like a relationship. It becomes a physical, visual exchange, and can be quite sexual. If you’re attracted to the person and you kind of fall in love with them, then you take interesting photographs.”
Whom have you had the greatest photographic love story with?
“With my wife [model Tuuli Shipster], definitely, because I keep shooting her and I’m doing a new book with her. There is something sexy about capturing somebody that you’re in love with and that you will spend the rest of your life with.”
Who would be your ultimate subject?
“I always say God. To get God on camera, that would be exciting! Also, I’m kind of obsessed by Sean Penn—he would be fantastic to photograph.”
Your last book, Visually Hungry, was published in 2007. What are you visually hungry for now?
“I want to experiment. It’s almost like having doors open that I was scared to go through before and now I’m raring to go. I’m afraid the answer is everything.”