John Rankin, otherwise known by his photographic working name, Rankin, is a rather wildly successful portrait and fashion photographer. He’s shot some of the biggest names for the biggest names in many genres. Names like David Gandy and Heidi Klum in fashion; Daniel Craig and Monica Bellucci in film; Rafa Nadal and Ronaldo in sport; and Katy Perry and Kieth Richards in music.
His talent and client lists are populated as such that you’d imagine that whether on a yacht party during the Monaco Grand Prix, or the after party at the Oscars or fashion shows, you could throw a rock and you’re bound to hit 6 or 7 people he’s shot. In the noisy overpopulated photographic world in which we reside, he’s one that rises above the noise to a place of focus, and it’s hard to imagine there’s anyone he would find intimidating to work with, but there are – people like David Bailey.
In 2009, Rankin released a documentary for BBC called Seven Photographs That Changed Fashion, where he recreated iconic images as tribute to the original greats; Photographers like Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, and David Bailey. For those into beauty and fashion, you’ll no doubt be acquainted with these names because they are the ones that have set the tone and standard for us all, and working with any one of them is a bucket-list item even for Rankin.
In the video herein, Rankin plucks an image from Bailey’s files and tries to recreate it using the same camera, a similar model and setting, but with Bailey Present. Bailey is known to be quite a presence. He actually lives ’round the corner from my family and I’m too cowardly to go and ask even to borrow sugar, so I cannot imagine the pressure of having to recreate an iconic Bailey shot in front of the man himself.
It’s actually a brilliant piece of film though if you’re into fashion and portraiture. You get a behind the scenes look at how photographers like this hold themselves, how they interact with their subjects, what tools they use, and if you pay attention to the precise verbiage they use, how they actually think about the craft and their own work. It’s marvelous really, that we can get a glimpse into something like this.
It’s also refreshing to see that Bailey is forthcoming with the information about the shot, about how it was created, and why. He informs Rankin, and the viewer, that it was shot on a Rolleiflex, with a continuous light source, a plain background, no hair stylist or MUA, and not even a fan to blow the hair. The hair, he said, was blown up just using a piece of white board.
If you know Bailey and his work, you’ll likely know the image, but even if you don’t it should serve as inspiration to spend more time concerned with your interaction with your subject and getting the most out of them, than obsessing over what equipment you’re using. Like we teach with Photography 101, you don’t need a bank balance with 6 zeroes left of the decimal to take good images.