John Rankin Wadell, or 'Rankin' as he is better known, is a Scottish photographer currently based in London. He is one of the most well known photographers in the world and has had a career spanning over three decades. Making his name by setting up his own magazine and shooting for it, he has risen up the ranks to become an industry heavyweight. He has worked on countless campaigns, editorials and projects, so there's no doubt you will have seen his work.
Solstice: You're a little bit of an idol to us, a you actually co-founded your own magazine ('Dazed & Confused', now called 'Dazed') back in the 90s and have since created Rank, AnOther magazine, AnOther Man, and Hunger magazine. How did all of this come about and why so much love for printed magazines?
Rankin: Thank you, I'm glad I can be an inspiration in that way. Well, Dazed and Confused came into existence because my friend Jefferson Hack, and I, wanted to get our work seen. We had worked with student magazines, and we were inspired by the wave of independent magazines, such as i-D, that were becoming more and more popular. We were quite arrogant at the time, and thought "we can do that!", so we did. Amazingly, it worked out really well and we got to work with some of the best young and established talent of the time. Printed magazines were a great way to get your work seen at the time and having our own publication helped us enormously. I kind of got addicted to starting new magazines and that's how the other were founded. I love having new projects.
Solstice: What were your early years as a photographer like and what was the turning point where you realised you had made it?
Rankin: Honestly I'm not too fond of who I was in the early years. I was quite an arrogant person, with a chip on my shoulder. I was inspired by Malcolm McLaren and the punk scene so I kind of ingested their way of being and it came out in my attitude too. I was a dick back then, but now I'm much nicer and easier to get on with. I think the moment that made me stop and think I'd made it was when I photographed the queen. It was a big moment for me but it's only in the last decade or so that I've become truly happy with who I am a photographer and how I work.
Solstice: Your best known work is mostly studio photography, but in recent years you have shot more on location. Is there a reason for that?
Rankin: Yes, looking back at it now I realise that I spent far too much time working in the studio, right up until around 2007. Everything was going so well with my studio work and I had just become incredibly comfortable doing it that I didn't really want to stray too much into location work. Also, living in London means that you're always able to just go outside and shoot, the weather here doesn't allow that. But I'm now much more open to shooting on location and look forward to those shoots.
Solstice: Last year you worked on your 'Selfie Harm' project, in which you highlighted the toll social media can have on the youth of today. Are you a fan of social media and how do you think it will change?
Rankin: The 'Selfie Harm' project is very important to me and I feel we have to talk about the mental health issues that over reliance on social media is creating and also the beauty standards that we are all holding ourselves to. This project made it painfully clear that our ideas of beauty are becoming homogenised and there's no doubt social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are feeding us a one look fits all kind of idea, especially with all the face filters they are utilising. I used to love social media when it all started exploding into our lives, but as time has gone on, my view of it has shifted a bit and I've realised that it can have a huge negative effect on people. There's no doubt that it is helpful in pushing a creative's work into viewership, but when it comes to our own self image and self confidence, the use of social media is dangerous. We should embrace how we look with a more optimistic and self-loving view, and if people start doing that again we will become a much happier and healthier society.
Solstice: You're one the the most well-known fashion photographers around, are you comfortable with the fame?
Rankin: Yes and No. Yes in the sense that I know that it's almost impossible to be really good at something such as photography without becoming well known and famous. The attention is nice I must admit, but that has only come from years of hard work. However, I do suffer from what is called 'Imposter Syndrome' where you are constantly feeling that you're not worthy of the success you've earned and will one day be found out and cast aside. You feel like a fraud, I don't think I particularly suit being well-known either. I go to all these A-List parties and hang out with these extraordinarily talented people, but I feel like I don't belong there. I'm not especially good looking, short, and I'm a little chubby. Not exactly celebrity material.
Solstice: Flipping that, how do you deal with working with celebrities and people of high status? How do you get the real them to come out?
Rankin: I think it's all about how you go into the shoot, mentally. I always try to think of them a just another person, we're just two people (or more) having fun and taking some photos. My father's words helped me a lot actually, as when I was young he was always telling me not to judge people on my first impression of them, so I try my best to keep to that. I try to be casual on the shoot itself, and normalise things. I'll be self-deprecating and just talk to them about regular normal people things. As soon as they feel comfortable, their real character comes out and the photos get much more personality.
Solstice: Who are your favourite people to shoot with?
Rankin: Well, obviously I love shooting with my incredible wife (and model) Tuuli. We have a great relationship and it's always special working with her. Aside from Tuuli, Heidi Klum has always been someone that I've had fun photographing. She's always so alive and involved. We've worked with each other for years now, and she's one of my best friends and muses in the industry.
Solstice: How much of a shoot is planned and how much is spontaneous?
Rankin: It's difficult to say exactly how much as each shoot is different. But I will want an element of spontaneity as it's those moments where you usually get the most honest photos, sometimes I'll even take candid photos of the model if I like how they're looking at that particular moment. Shoots for big clients tend to be more organised and carefully planned, as they will always want some control over how things are done. You'll always go into a shoot with an idea of how you want the photos to come out, but I think it's important to be open to improvisation too.
Solstice: You launched your own creative agency towards the end of last year, could you tell us about your operation and how it came about?
Rankin: Yes, the agency is called Rankin Agency, and we have over eighty people working for it. Basically, we formed a synergy from the former operations of Tonic Reps, The Full Service, Rankin Photography and Rankin Film, so they are all now run under the umbrella of Rankin Agency. It all became quite cluttered and messy, having all those creative departments work independently and separately, so I thought it was a good idea to join them all in order to great a more fluid operation.
Solstice: The work that you do has enabled you to travel a lot, but it's usually to more glamourous and fashion-centric places. Where haven't you been that you would like to shoot in?
Rankin: I've wanted to work in India for quite some time now. It's so rich in culture and it's vivid too, the people of India love their colours. I think it would be an incredible experience to go and do a few shoots there, or even to just go for a visit.
Solstice: What is your advice for people that want to get into photography as a career?
Rankin: Hmm it's tough to give advice as there's many ways to get into working as a photographer. But I would say that getting some kind of formal education is a great start, as you know you'll be learning from people that know what they are doing. However, working as a kind of apprentice is very useful too. You can shadow a photographer, assist them, or offer to be a secondary photographer. I think the most important thing is to be willing to work hard and to be open to experimentation. You've got to keep trying new things and just keep shooting. The more you shoot, the better your work will get, and the better your work gets the easier it will be to be a successful professional photographer.
All photos © Rankin