Junior Meets: photographer Rankin

We chat to prolific portrait photographer Rankin about life behind the lens

Published: October 4, 1997 at 9:00 am

Best known by his surname alone, photographer John Rankin is at the top of his game. Spending his days shooting celebrities from supermodel Kate Moss, superstar Kylie Minogue and even the Queen, everyone from rockstars to royalty have queued to have their picture taken by Rankin. This season he has lent his talents to Marks & Spencer's 'Do Your Thing' Autumn/Winter campaign. We caught up with him for a chat about how he 'does his thing' so brilliantly...


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Glasgow until the age of ten. Then my dad got a promotion at work and my family relocated to Thirsk in North Yorkshire for four years, before moving to St Albans in Hertfordshire

What is your favourite childhood memory?

My dad would often take me to the cinema. I found myself really seduced by the imagery. I related it to what I would see out of the car window. I remember driving around with my parents when I was quite small, looking out of the window and being very aware that it was the shape of a film screen when you went to the cinema.

Do you have any funny childhood memories?

When I was nine and my sister was four, I found a dead chicken and told my sister I was going to bring it back to life with a huge zap of electrically like a mad scientist. I found an old broken car battery and hooked the battery cables to the chickens legs. I then pretended the chicken was coming back to life and my sister then ran into the house crying. It was on that day, I realised I wanted to make a horror film.

Do you have any children? If so, what are they called and how would you describe them in three words?

Yes, I have a son called Lyle. I would say talented, unique, creative.

How did you choose the kids that won the M&S 'Do Your Thing' campaign?

I wanted authenticity. I cast around the country for kids with talent and an awareness of what they were interested in. I wanted them to present themselves in front of the camera, not pretend to be someone else. I wanted kids with genuine enthusiasm who were interested in being there, and in showing off their skills.

How did you convey their talent through the pictures?

I wanted to capture their essence, their energy, which brought more individuality to the pictures. Often when you shoot fashion there is a massive focus on the clothes, and you have to be careful about things like creases. But these pictures are more about the children than the clothes.

What was the atmosphere like on the M&S shoot?

I wanted the kids to have fun. That was a priority!

Do you carry your camera everywhere with you just in case inspiration strikes?

Yes, always. People really inspire me, Iʼm really inquisitive about them, I love shooting anyone and everyone. I want to find something in their eyes that no one has ever seen before.

You have shot a wide range of celebrities; who was your favourite to work with?

My favourite subject is my wife, Tuuli. Iʼve photographed thousands of models but Iʼve never wanted to continue going back to someone. It must be very annoying for her because I always want to photograph her; thereʼs a shorthand between us and she knows what I want. Because weʼre in a relationship she sees that she can trust me and is involved in the process. Itʼs a different kind of relationship than the normal photographic relationship. I think itʼs more about love than anything else. Kate Moss and Heidi Klum are always great too – they give everything every time, and it shows.

How do you know when youʼve got THE shot?

It's a gut instinct when everything comes together - you just feel it, and you know you have the shot.

Youʼve been behind the camera and in front of it: where are you most comfortable?

Definitely behind it, but I think itʼs really important for photographers to have photographs taken of them too, to explore being on both sides of the camera. It helps tune into how the subject feels in front of the camera.

What would you be doing in front of the camera if photography wasnʼt ʻyour thingʼ?


Iʼve been making films for the last 12 years so I guess I would be directing. Filmmaking and directing is another creative outlet that really gives me the freedom to explore lots of approaches to ideas that are floating around in my head.


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