Rankin Reveals the Stories Behind His Most Memorable Photographs

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Nancy Boy, Another Magazine, Issue 1, 1994Photography by Rankin

A new monograph, Unfashionable, celebrates the photographer’s unapologetic 30-year career. Here, he remembers five defining images

“For Rankin, it can’t just be a straight fashion image, it needs a reason for being,” writes fashion editor Katie Grand in the foreword to Unfashionable, a Rizzoli-published monograph which celebrates 30 years of the British photographer’s images. Taken from the pages of Dazed & Confused, which he co-founded with Jefferson Hack, AnOther and countless other publications – including Hunger, which Rankin began in 2012 – his unapologetic work defined the 1990s as it hurtled into a new millenium. 

Presented in reverse chronological order, the hefty Unfashionable demonstrates the sheer breadth of Rankin’s culture-defining photographs – Kate Moss is spray painted, for Dazed; faces sprout with flowers; models crouch among the shrunken houses of a miniature village – a testament to a vision he has steadfastly defended as his own. “I always felt like an outsider to the fashion world in a way,” he tells Moss, the pair recorded in conversation in the book. “I mean, even when I was in the ‘in crowd’ I felt like an outsider.”

“They say geniuses are those who can hold two opposing ideas in their head at the same time,” says Hack, who provides the afterword to Unfashionable. “When you enter into Rankin’s photography, he transforms everyone else into the genius in the room. That is his gift, to transfer complex, often contradictory ideas into simple-to-understand, immediate pop iconography.”

Here, from an early iteration of AnOther (the short-lived ‘Another Magazine’) to Sad Lad for Dazed, part of a series of concept shoots dreamt up alongside a young Grand, Rankin remembers five photographs from a defiant, three-decade long career.

Nancy Boy, Another Magazine, Issue 1, 1994 (above)

“This is from the first iteration of Another Magazine which ran between 1993 and 1994, well before Jefferson and I started AnOther in 2001. Our aim was to create a cross between Vogue and Monty Python. More fashion than style but still finding new talent, focusing on design, and having a sense of humour, as always it was all about individuals. Mark Wedgewood (now known as Marc Massive from the band Massive Ego) is a perfect example of the individuality that the early 90s was all about. Androgyny was taking over the fashion world, guys where unashamedly wearing make-up, and everyone had an irreverent sense of personal style.” 

Sad Lad, Dazed & Confused, Issue 16, 1995

“We shot this around east London on a cold Saturday in 1995. The photos weren’t actually printed at the time, they were the basis for the Sad Lad spread in the mag that Paul Smith guest edited, it was issue 16 of Dazed. His concept was to do a photo-realist story based on a men’s fashion shoot. Funnily enough, it had been an idea Katie Grand and I had been kicking around for a while, I’d even tested it on a photo of my niece, but it took Paul to make it happen.”

Heidi Klum Interzone, AnOther, Issue 5, 2003

“So this one is from the real AnOther and it’s with one of my favourite models, Heidi Klum. I’ve been shooting Heidi now for over 15 years, and she has this amazing presence on set. She’s such a strong personality, full of charisma, and every shoot is characterised by laughing, dancing and having a lot of fun whilst working. I really love this shoot in particular, it was shot around London Fields and has this totally different feel to most images of her out there. It’s almost grungy. That’s one of those things which makes Heidi so special, she can go from this moody quite British aesthetic, to the glamour of Hollywood, all in a blink of the eye.”

Obsessive Behaviour, Dazed & Confused, Issue 25, 1996

“This is one of my favourite projects. Robbie was one of the biggest pop stars in the country at the time. He’d left Take That in 1995 and had this persona that the press, and fans, just loved. He said in a quote for Unfashionable that he wasn’t particularly cool at the time, but I don’t think he’s remembering the 90s, as the genuine obsession people had for him was overwhelming. The Obsessive Behaviour shoot was done in two parts, first Robbie did his thing and we made up our own version of the ubiquitous Robbie merchandise that was around at the time, then part two was with the model Natasha Elms who played the part of Robbie’s number one fan. It’s a shoot all about celebrity, what it is to be an icon, and how we’re selling fans sexuality piecemeal through all of this merchandise. The weirdest thing was I’d never sold my pictures for this kind of thing before, then a year later I shot the Spice Girls and they bought the pictures, quite similar to the Robbie ones. To be honest I thought nothing of it, then when visiting my parents, I was in our local supermarket with my Mum and Dad and there was this entire section of Spice Girl’s ‘stuff’ all with my pictures on them. The maddest one was a birthday cake.”

Celluloid Closet, Dazed & Confused, Vol 2, Issue 3, 2003

“This is a shoot for Dazed in 2003. We were going for this film noir style, something both retro and timeless. I shot it on film and we really avoided heavy retouching that made everyone in the 2000s look weirdly plastic. This image was all about old fashioned glamour – the styling was at once historical, paying homage to cinematic femme fatales, and yet also really in keeping with contemporary fashion. Outside of the clothing though the set makes these images different. We brought all of the tools of a photographer or cinematographer out and in front of the camera. A lot of this was down to my assistant at the time Laurie Bartley. Like a lot of my old assistants he’s gone on to be such an incredible photographer with entirely his own brilliant style. I learnt a lot from him.”

Unfashionable: 30 Years of Fashion Photography is out now, published by Rizzoli.