Rankin
Digital Camera World|February 2021
Over 25 years of stylish photography feature in Rankin’s new book Play. Steve Fairclough speaks to him about his approach to music and portraits
Steve Fairclough

Since the quirky pop star Björk posed for him in 1994, Rankin has spent over 25 years shooting the biggest names in music – from 1970s icons Debbie Harry and David Bowie to modern-day artists such as Rita Ora and Akala. Nearly 200 of his classic music portraits feature in his new book Play, which combines his bold portraiture with his behind-the-scenes stories of working with music legends.

2020 was a busy year for Rankin, with major projects dotted throughout the year alongside his usual workload. These have included his series of 12 portraits of key NHS workers to mark its 72nd anniversary, his Sky Arts TV series Rankin’s 2020 and the digital exhibition Lost for Words, which featured famous people photographed alongside background images of those close to them who had died. The idea of Lost for Words was to highlight the need to discuss grief and death openly.

Despite his hectic work schedule, Rankin took time out to talk to Digital Camera about the book Play; his inspirations; his journey through documenting the biggest faces in the music business; his creative approach, his marriage of film and digital work; and some of his more bizarre encounters with music legends.

Are there any photographers you admire who shoot music photography? Who are they, and how did they inspire you or your work?

A lot of the photographers I really looked up to when I was just starting out took incredible images of musicians. It was album covers that were among my first photographic inspirations. Whether it was David Bailey taking pictures of the Rolling Stones or Gered Mankowitz’s images of The Jam, these photographers were taking incredible portraits, and seemed to just get to the essence of the people they photographed. I guess my love of portrait photography has some roots there.

What circumstances led to you first photographing musicians?

My first big session with a musician was with Björk. Her record company reached out to Dazed & Confused, and asked if I wanted to do a press session. It was nerve-wracking since she was already iconic by 1994, and I was right at the beginning of my career.

How does getting commissioned for portraits of musicians normally work?

This all depends on the project. I shoot musicians for press imagery, where their team will reach out and commission me, but sometimes I invite people in to be photographed for editorials for my magazine Hunger.

Tell us more about your creative thought processes for your music portraits…

I’m a big believer in letting people express themselves. Musicians, in their nature, have to be performers, and I’m here to capture that. A photo shoot where the person I’m shooting is uncomfortable or not being themselves will never work – so I talk and get to know the sitter… and we go from there.

Do you have a favourite musician you’ve photographed?

There are quite a few people I’ve photographed where I would jump at the chance of photographing them again. The Rolling Stones are undoubtedly up there. And maybe Bono – he’s got an incredible energy, and can really connect with a photographer.

What are the biggest challenges when you photograph famous musicians?

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

RELATED STORIES

LAIDLAW'S LEGACY

During the pandemic, Ian Rankin stepped away from Rebus and into the shoes of friend and literary hero, the “Godfather of Tartan Noir” William McIlvanney.

10+ mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

Centenary college

In the woods of rural Rankin County lies the history of Mississippi’s first medical college.

4 mins read
Mississippi Magazine
March - April 2021

The sleuths... GAME OF MURDER

Crime writer Ian Rankin sets a challenging mystery for a group of amateur sleuths on a Scottish island in a unique new series

3 mins read
TV & Satellite Week
October 02, 2021

कोहली और रोहित आईसीसी वनडे रैंकिंग में शीर्ष दो स्थान पर बरकरार

भारतीय कप्तान विराट कोहली और उप कप्तान रोहित शर्मा अंतरराष्ट्रीय क्रिकेट परिषद (आईसीसी) की वनडे रैंकिंग में बल्लेबाजों की सूची में शीर्ष दो स्थान पर बने हुए हैं जबकि तेज गेंदबाज जसप्रीत बुमराह भी गेंदबाजों की सूची में दूसरे स्थान पर काबिज हैं।

1 min read
Samagya
November 05, 2020

Going for a song

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams bid for Eurovision glory

2 mins read
TV & Satellite Week
June 20, 2020