Rankin: If Selfies Get People Interested In Photography, That's Not A Bad Thing

Rankin (or John Waddell Rankin as he was known when he came kicking and screaming into this world) is a household name when referring to photography, and with good reason. He has snapped the elite of fashion and beyond that, his portraits are a joy to look at.

Not bad then, for a lad from Paisley, who was self-taught and came from "a working class family who'd done okay".

What we like about Rankin is that is isn't just pretty pictures: there is an art to what he does, and he elevates a fashion shoot into something beyond the fine-boned model and designer clothes. Also: he takes an interest in things beyond his own art form.

Aside from his charity work, he's involved in a new project Ones To Watch on Sky 1 along with Idris Elba and Paloma Faith to nurture young talent. We caught up with him to talk selfies and what manhood means to him...

What do you think of selfies and people using their phones rather than cameras to take pictures?

To be honest, I’m not adverse to the odd cheeky selfie, so I can’t really sit here and slag people off for it, you only need to check out my Instagram feed to see that!

People use their camera phones because it's convenient and allows for spontaneous moments to be captured. We all do it ! I think there's a difference though between photographing your dinner in a compelling way to get a million likes and actually making a living from it, although saying that it has got more people interested in photography which can't be such a bad thing.

What have you learned about beauty in your career?

It’s the old cliche, but one that I agree with! Surface beauty is great for a few seconds, but if there is no substance to a person, then their perfect skin, bright eyes, symmetrical face, athletic body...whatever it may be, loses its appeal very quickly. When I hold castings, I am searching for a certain look, of course.

But I am also casting for personality. If someone has the right look, but hasn't got an energy, spark, enthusiasm, opinions of their own, then ultimately I don't find that person beautiful.

What have you learned, about being a man since when you started out and now?

I’m still learning! And I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes along the way, but that’s all part of human nature and growing up, isn’t it? The most important thing I’ve learned is to be humble, know when to shut up, never pre-judge anyone and treat everyone equally, which is a trait my Dad instilled in me.

As for photography, I’m still learning my trade and as long as technology develops at the pace it is, I always will be. On a personal level, I’ve learned to view the world empirically, be as objective as possible and not judge anyone. Oh and most importantly, have a laugh when you can. Don’t take yourself too seriously, it doesn't suit you!

What sparked your interest in photography?

I guess you could trace it back to cinema. When I was younger my first connection to imagery was through film. My dad would often take me to the cinema and I found myself being really seduced by the imagery on the big screen and connecting that to what I saw around me.

I remember driving about with my parents when I was a kid, being in the back seat and looking out of the window and thinking about how it framed the scene and how it was the same shape. I didn’t actually start taking photos properly until I was 21, which nowadays is pretty old when you consider most kids these days have access to a camera on their phones and are documenting the minor details of their lives on a daily basis!

You're helping to nurture new talent - did you have someone helping you when you were younger?

Nah not really. When I started in photography, I was such an outsider to the industry I was reliant on books to teach me. I had no idea that photographers had assistants and you could become one, I was unaware that it was a proper job, let alone one that you could get paid for.

Call me naive but I was from a working class family who’d done okay and photography was just not something in our universe. So I got into it in a very pure way. No knowledge, nobody to help me just me and a few mates taking snaps. It was magic. And I still haven’t lost that excitement for it as a medium.

Who do you look up to, and why?

In my own field of photography, there are so many – Newton, Avedon, Blumenfeld, Nick Knight, Juergen Teller, Sokolsky and of course David Bailey, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few times and hope to work again with in the future.

Do you make time for yourself outside of work, and what does relaxation look like to you?

I didn’t use to - I was a workaholic. Recently I’ve realised that personal time spent with family and friends makes work seem all the more worthwhile. I do get to travel loads with the job and get to experience different cultures, people and places, I went to the Congo and Kenya in my role as an ambassador for Oxfam which were really were mind-blowing and humbling experiences, so in that respect I consider myself quite lucky.

Downtime for me is walking the dogs and spending time with my wife and son.

Rankin features as a mentor in ‘The Ones To Watch’, part of Samsung's Launching People Campaign, airing next on Sky 1 on 25 May.