At Milk Studios, Rankin’s Retrospective is Up to the Moment

“We can all look beautiful; you just need a light and the right photographer, and you can be the fantasy,” says British-based photographer John Rankin Waddell, known commonly as Rankin. The photographer famously shot models and celebrities, including Britney Spears, Kate Moss, Heidi Klum, after co-founding the magazine Dazed and Confused in 1992. His work from that time period was often visually striking but shocking, and he’s most known for his suggestive photos of (often nude) women [see a selection of these and other shots in our slideshow of his work, above]. 

Rankin will be the first to admit that as he’s grown older, he’s become increasingly socially aware and dedicated to philanthropic pursuits. The photographer credits an eye-opening experience working with children in Brazil, and the birth of his now 15-year-old son, with starting him on his path to maturity. As Rankin puts it, “If I didn’t try to do something that turned the light I have on to something else the world should be thinking about, I wouldn’t really be able to look at myself in the mirror.”

Rankin is donating the proceeds from his latest project, “Rankin Live,” with a $100-per-portrait fee, to Oxfam, an international aid organization that aims to curb poverty and injustice across continents. Rankin initially became involved with Oxfam after a trip to the Republic of Congo in 2008 to shoot portraits, for the organization, of women and children in refugee camps. His experiences with Oxfam grew into “Rankin Live,” which shoots everyday people who submit their photograph through his website. Participants are picked at random, and after a run through hair and makeup, the subjects are photographed by Rankin and the images are instantly edited by Rankin’s team of assistants. By laying open this project in a frank fashion—the subjects are able to view the images taken, and editing is done on large screens facing the subject—the project turns the illusion of perfection in fashion photography on its head. The images vary widely, from nudes to family portraits, but an element of relaxed informality is on view throughout.

For New York’s edition of Rankin Live, which runs today through June 5th, participants will be photographed at Milk Studios and the portraits will be displayed in the gallery next to images from the photographer’s portfolio, from his erotic nudes to celebrities to children from the Congo, creating a mini-retrospective of the artist’s work that acknowledges his controversial past while creating something relevant for the present.