‘I felt like mod­els weren’t be­ing treated as peo­ple. So we bor­rowed a farm, put them in masks, and shot them in a cow barn and a pigsty’

The Guardian - G2 - - Arts - Ever

My best shot

This was taken at a time when I was be­com­ing a lit­tle jaded about fash­ion. It’s a com­men­tary on the way I thought some mod­els were treated, right in front of me. I felt they weren’t be­ing treated like peo­ple. I had done an­other project, Breed­ing, about how mod­els have an al­most ho­moge­nous look, with ev­ery­thing equal and in par­tic­u­lar pro­por­tions. So I sup­pose I was al­ready in­ter­ested in live­stock as a theme.

Peo­ple al­ways call me a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher, but re­ally I’m a com­mer­cial por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher. I’ve never felt I fully be­longed in the fash­ion world, par­tic­u­larly the churn­ing busi­ness side of it all. You hear these ridicu­lous things, like some­one say­ing: “I have to fly this dress on Con­corde!” Why would you

have to fly a dress on Con­corde?

I had done a ver­sion of this al­ready at Ken­tish Town City Farm in 1993, with a stylist called Katie Grand. My stu­dio is just down the road and I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the farm. For this shot, though, we wanted to make it look very re­al­is­tic so I ended up bor­row­ing some­one’s farm in Dorset. Well, I think the farm was in Dorset. I know it was ab­so­lutely miles away.

I’m a mas­sive fan of Monty Python and that sort of Bri­tish com­edy. I thought: “Why not do a re­ally funny fash­ion shoot ac­tu­ally about cows and sheep?” Fash­ion can be so ab­surd: I just wanted to put a mir­ror up to it, do some­thing ridicu­lous. I knew peo­ple would ei­ther re­ally like it or be re­ally an­noyed by it.

It was a fun shoot, but it was un­com­fort­able for the mod­els. We used a cow barn, a pigsty, and a sheep field. This one is from the barn, where we also set up a white stu­dio. I shot the cow with Po­laroids, both sides, to make it look hy­per­re­al­is­tic. But I also used the Mamiya RZ67 I had back then. I do that some­times: dou­ble up on cam­eras, just in case one ap­proach doesn’t work.

There was just some­thing funny and silly about bring­ing a model on set, then putting hooves and a cow mask on them. It could be any­one un­der there. I can’t re­mem­ber who made the jacket – prob­a­bly some­one re­ally im­por­tant who I’ve now for­got­ten.

I’ve al­ways loved an­i­mals. A few years ago, I be­came a veg­e­tar­ian. I have three dogs and I take pho­to­graphs for Bat­tersea Dogs & Cats Home. They’re beau­ti­ful to pho­to­graph. Ev­ery year, my wife and I do a dog cal­en­dar for the fam­ily – pas­tich­ing film posters, clas­sic al­bum cov­ers, that kind of thing.

I once did a full cat fash­ion shoot. We had all these out­fits made for the cat, based on Prada and Chanel stuff. But the owner had been giv­ing the an­i­mal so many treats, it had put on weight and couldn’t fit into any of the clothes. So there it was again, that need to tell a model they’ve put on weight.

I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me. I’m re­ally se­duced by fash­ion and I love the im­agery. But I’m in­ter­ested in hu­man­ity. And I see much more of it in that shot. In­ter­view by Nell Frizzell. Un­fash­ion­able: 30 Years of Fash­ion Pho­tog­ra­phy by Rankin is pub­lished by Riz­zoli. Glas­gow, 1966.

Barn­field, Col­lege Lu­ton (BTech); Lon­don Col­lege of Print­ing (BA, didn’t pass).’

‘The usual greats: Penn, Bai­ley, Ave­don.’

Born Train­ing ‘ In­flu­ences High point

‘Work­ing with Katie Grand and Jef­fer­son Hack, though at the time we wanted to kill each other.’

‘When that scene fell apart.’

‘Lis­ten to Tris­tan Har­ris’s Wak­ing Up pod­cast on tech­nol­ogy ad­dic­tion’

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