13 November 2006

Glamour Photography: Please Let's Not Pretend It Can be Profound

I found this interview with the photographer Rankin (whose less stylish given name is J.R. Waddell) in The Guardian today. It turns out to be remarkably vacuous, but only in part due to the interviewee. The interviewer, Natalie Hanman, apparently had nothing interesting to talk about. In any case, I started reading the interview because of the first question and answer:

"Q: What got you started?
A: I saw W Eugene Smith's work at the Barbican art gallery a long time ago. I was completely inspired to be that kind of photographer. "

I figured, one could do much worse in an evening than explore the work of a photographer of whom you'd never heard who aspired to be the same "kind of photographer" as Smith. What a disappointment. The first indication was reading on the homepage of Rankin's (dysfuntional) web site that it is designed to present his portfolio's "without the distraction of text." Once you move inside it quickly becomes clear that Rankin is apparently a purveyor of glossy glamour photos of celebs and models (especially scantily clad female models). Here are three samples lifted from the web:

I am not terribly interested in such glamour imagery and find it especially irritating when those who purvey it try to lend false gravity to their work (see, for instance these posts [1] [2] occasioned by the political posturing of fashion photographer Steven Meisel). So far as I can tell, nothing in Rankin's work has even the vaguest relation to anything that W. Eugene Smith ever did (see, e.g., [1] [2]). Of course, both Smith and Rankin use cameras to make their images. So what? It is hardly the common tool that counts, but the very different things the two photograpahers do with the tool that does.

I may be mistaken; I may have missed something truly weighty in Rankin's textless portfolio's. I doubt it. After all, his latest "project" is entitled Tuulitastic: A Photographic Love Letter and is inspired (if that is the right word) by his favorite model. What I really would like to know is whether Rankin was able to keep a straight face as he claimed that he wanted to be the same kind of photographer as Smith. How did Hanman let him get away with such a preposterous claim? Rankin is merely seeking to claim some profundity for a body of work that focuses more or less relentlessly on the superficial and perhaps, thereby, rationalize using his (pretty obvious) talent for such purposes.

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Blogger PortsmouthKammerjunker said...

Hi, thanks for an extremely interesting blog that I enjoy visiting. Regarding Rankin, I agree with your review of his site, it is mystifying to me why the site carries such shallow, pretentious images when Rankin has such an interesting and original portfolio. Rankin's magazine Dazed and Confused has included some of the best contemporary photography in the UK for 5 or more years. Try searching for more of his work, there are better examples.

14 November, 2006 06:29  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Thanks for the comment. It seems to me that he is quite talented (Perhaps not quite Ricard Avedon or Nancy Liebowitz, but close.) I can imagine there is better work, but the stuff he uses to promote himself seems incredibly uninteresting. I will take you suggesiton and keep looking.

14 November, 2006 10:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for that post! I totally agree with you, on Rankin, and other fashion photographers who think they can also cross the bridge towards political photo-journalism. Or even fashion spreads, designers, ect.- who make shallow and ridiculous, yet hilarious, political commentaries in order to lend some kind of artistic or creative credibility to their mediocre work. (those obnoxious Kenneth Cole ads? Tara Subkoff and her 'deep' pseudo-political fashion shows for Imitation of Christ perhaps?) It's disheartening to see that these people are using fashion as the vehicle to promote current events and political ethos to the masses. It seems like any kind of relevant cultural or political information these days is assimilated into some kind of tasteless or simplified form in order to appeal more directly to people who otherwise would barely bat an eye.

16 November, 2006 23:24  

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