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Living Curiously. A conversation with Rankin

September 2023 – George Lee

Theme: Living Curiously

Living Curiously.
A conversation with Rankin

In a revealing interview, This Curious Life had the real privilege of engaging in a deep and thought-provoking conversation with the world renowned photographer, Rankin. We talked about curiosity, ageing, death, fashion and the power of technology for both good and bad. Here is a glimpse into our conversation, where Rankin’s unique perspective and lifetime dedication to showing the reality of what it means to be human, in its many and diverse shades, come through. 

The Joy, HUNGERTV, 2021 ©Rankin

Rankin’s life story is one that champions curiosity as the driving force behind his remarkable journey. Born into a working-class environment in Glasgow, Rankin’s parents played a pivotal role in shaping his inquisitive nature. No question was ever taboo and debate and dialogue were the norm. He describes curiosity as “at the heart of everything in my life which has become successful.” As well as an inquisitiveness encouraged by his parents, Rankin describes growing up in Glasgow, where every individual was treated equally, as the place where he developed his strong spirit of inquiry and sense of equality. Rankin fondly remembers being the child who dared to question, as he says, he was kid that questioned the emperor’s new clothes. This relentless curiosity eventually steered him towards the world of photography, a medium that allowed him to convey his unique perspective and capture what it means to be human. 

Rankin when young with his mum

Rankin's parents ©Rankin

Photography allows me to show how I saw the world. Humanity and human beings are fascinating and asking questions is at the heart of everything I do. Rankin has had a lifelong fascination with people and his vision of humanity is deeply rooted in his lifetime interest in people. We talk about how as he gets older he is more focused on how we can all become better people, how we can do things better. We talk about the importance of humor, and the wisdom of not taking oneself too seriously. He reflects, “the meaning of being human, for me at least, is to become a better person, do things better, and have a laugh and not take myself too seriously.” In a world so weighed down by polarisation and divisive labels, Rankin fervently champions open-mindedness and encourages the nurturing of curiosity. He laments the current lack of willingness to question due to the fear of backlash or cancellation noting, “anything that takes us into a world where there is an ‘us’ or ‘them’ is very dangerous, so I always encourage people to question.” In an era dominated by rigid dichotomies, Rankin’s advocacy for nuance and dialogue — he likes grey not black and white is truly inspiring.  

An early Rankin photograph

An early self portrait ©Rankin

"As your heroes start to pass away and die, you start to question your mortality in a more direct way."

We talk about age, ageing and death and Rankin shares that he has been reflecting more recently on the challenges and perceptions of ageing. “As your heroes start to pass away and die, you start to question your mortality in a more direct way.”  He shares how he has been thinking about his significance in the world. How he found this liberating and freeing rather than sad and depressing and that he wished he had done this earlier in his life. He confides, “I have become very aware of people’s approach to me being a little condescending over the last two or three years, which has surprised me.” This newfound deeper awareness of what ageing means has led him to explore the complexity of age and age gaps in relationships (his wife is younger) and how we must find ways to be able to have candid discussions about ageing and mortality. Rankin’s introspection extends further, contemplating the value of viewing the world through different generational lenses. He is surrounded by young people purposefully and he emphasises the importance of seeing different perspectives, regardless of our age. “When I was younger, I was interested in seeing things from an older perspective, and now that I’m older, I’m interested in seeing things from a younger perspective.”

Two older people kissing

Snog, 2000 ©Rankin

We move to fashion — Rankin’s journey through the world of photography has led him into the heart of the fashion industry. Reflecting on his involvement in fashion, Rankin characterises it as a captivating “fantasy world.” He emphasises that it’s a world far removed from reality. However, he adds an intriguing layer to this perspective by highlighting the significance of featuring models of all ages on the covers of magazines. “Having supermodels on the front covers of magazines who are the same age as you and me,” Rankin points out, “is a powerful statement.” 

X-Ray, HUNGER magazine, Issue 13, 2017 ©Rankin

Rankin’s perspective on technology and artificial intelligence (AI) is one of both fascination and caution. He acknowledges the potential of technology and AI to create intricate imagery and reshape the creative landscape. Nevertheless, he harbors doubts about AI’s capacity to capture the profound depth of human emotion and experience. “The reason I am a good photographer is that I am fascinated by the human condition.” Rankin asserts, “No matter how good an image is, I believe you will be able to tell that it is artificial.” With an astute awareness of the potential for misuse, he underscores the necessity of responsible technological advancement. Rankin issues a warning, “We are at a very pivotal moment in the history of humanity.” The immense power of technology carries with it an immense responsibility and one which Rankin believes we need to debate rather than align ourselves with love it or fear it camps. 

Transform-Her©Rankin, HUNGER magazine, Issue 15, 2018 ©Rankin

“I don't want to necessarily live longer, but having balance is important."

I ask Rankin to reflect on longevity and ask what we need to innovate He states emphatically that I don’t want to necessarily live longer, but having balance is important.” Through his personal development and self-reflection, he sees that finding happiness and balance outweigh conforming to the conventional badges of success. “Making personal development a much bigger part of people’s lives is a brilliant thing to do,” Rankin passionately affirms. Contemplating the ultimate insignificance of individual impact, he muses, “There is a humility in this which is really rewarding.” Getting older has helped find a newfound appreciation for life’s true essence, prompting Rankin to prioritise what truly matters. 

A few highlights of Rankin's photographs. The Joy, HUNGERTV, 2021 ©Rankin ©Rankin

F*ck Facet*ne, Impression Magazine, Vol.4, 2018 ©Rankin

Silver Ladies, Dazed & Confused, Issue 18, 1996 ©Rankin

Selfridges Cats, 2001 ©Rankin

Reverence, King Kong Magazine, Issue 7, 2019 ©Rankin

Scream, HUNGER magazine, Issue 11, 2016 ©Rankin

Light Up, HUNGERTV, 2018 ©Rankin

#No Filter, HUNGER magazine, Issue 13, 2017 ©Rankin

1/8 A few highlights of Rankin's photographs. The Joy, HUNGERTV, 2021 ©Rankin ©Rankin

Rankin’s words resonate as a testament to the power of curiosity, the complexities of ageing, the importance of dialogue and the transformative influence of technology for both good and not to so good in our rapidly changing world. His story reminds us to question, adapt, and embrace the multifaceted nature of being human. As Rankin aptly puts it, “I don’t think I am getting it right, but I am trying — honest, humble (no longer smug).” 


More Information

About Rankin

Rankin is a British photographer, publisher, and film director. Alongside being head of the eponymous agency RANKIN Creative, which hosts an 80+ strong team that puts strategy, creative and production all under one roof.

Through RANKIN Creative, he is best known for work that is on the cultural cusp and leading future trends: producing rule-breaking campaigns for brands such as Unilever, L’Oreal and Samsonite; creating wide reaching projects for charities including Women’s Aid and Macmillan; and shooting music videos for the likes of Miley Cyrus, Rita Ora and Kelis.

As a photographer Rankin’s portfolio ranges from portraiture to documentary. He has shot The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, KateMoss, Kendall Jenner and The Queen to name only a few.

As a publisher, Rankin co-founded the seminal magazine Dazed & Confused with Jefferson Hack in 1991, and has since published the likes of AnOther and AnOther Man, alongside over 40 books and the biannual fashion and culture print and digital platform, Hunger.

His photography has been published everywhere from his own publications to Elle, Vogue, Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Wonderland, and exhibited in galleries globally, including MoMA, New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Rankin lives in London with his wife Tuuli and their dogs.