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Meet Fashion Photographer Rankin

Ahead of the launch of our A Better Future: Primark Cares campaign, we get to know the man behind the camera and talk all things sustainability and fashion.

British fashion photographer Rankin was the man behind the camera on our most recent campaign, A Better Future: Primark Cares. From his early portraiture in the late 1980's to co-founding the influential magazine Dazed & Confused with Jefferson Hack, John Rankin Waddell, known simply as Rankin, has remained a force within the fashion industry for over thirty years.

With a portfolio ranging from The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Kate Moss to Kendall Jenner and the Queen, what was it about shooting Primark’s first sustainable brand campaign that really appealed to him? "Primark’s commitment to change is something that’s truly in line with my personal beliefs. To work with such a big brand focusing on sustainability in such a public way felt like a natural partnership to me."

And Rankin believes it isn’t the designers or the fashion photographers who are the key decision makers in the fashion marketplace – it's the big brand retailers who can make the biggest change and need to make the first move. He explains, "If I can walk into any Main Street store and buy something ethical or made in an eco-conscious way then I, as a consumer, am given a chance to make a positive decision. Until that happens, most people aren’t going to be able to access positive fashion."

Rankin has always been very vocal about his passion for sustainability and the future of fashion. From speaking last year on sustainability in the fashion industry at the Milano Unica tradeshow to creating a plastic monster for the Surfrider Foundation to raise awareness for plastic pollution in the ocean, he makes sure all his projects are based on topics close to his heart.

With sustainability such a big passion of his, we wanted to know what "doing your fair share for the environment" means to him? "It means thinking about the impact my choices have on the environment and thinking about what this means for the future of the world." He continues, "When it comes to retailers, the ultimate goal for sustainable fashion should be to leave as little negative footprint as possible, creating materials and objects that don’t harm. Whether that's making items in a carbon-neutral way or making things with long shelf lives that people can own and love for their full lifetimes. It’s important to think about every item as something with impact, no matter how small."

Having an engaged audience through social media, Rankin says, gives him a responsibility to promote and educate followers about positive lifestyle choices. "Photography is a medium a whole generation has grown up understanding and using for their own personal emotional expression – with Instagram and iPhones, for better or for worse, people are engaging more with photography today than ever before. It's a medium so entwined with contemporary culture, and that makes it currently one of the best mediums for promoting change and healthy choices."

When it comes to being more responsible for our actions, Rankin believes mental space is what we all need to achieve it: "I think the key is giving people time to think about their choices. I don’t believe people go out making purposeful decisions to act unsustainably or in a way that harms the planet’s future; but when you’re in a rush or under pressure, who hasn’t brought a bottle of water or put something recyclable in the wrong bin? In my studio we have a company that advises us, Green Team. They make sure we're on top of waste and recycling, and keep us informed on how to live sustainably and make better buying choices."

With over thirty years as a photographer, Rankin admits that right now is a really exciting time for photographers. He explains why: "There are so many photographers doing new things and really pushing the boundaries of what photography means. I love Em Cole, and her work spans photography, animation, digital art… it’s all about embracing new formats and technology to create her bold style and I find that fascinating."

So are there any other up-and-coming photographers keeping him on his toes...? "You can also look at real young up-and-comers like Karolina Wojtas who creates these bizarre, surreal photoshoots with her friends and family. Because of her unique style, she shot a campaign for Marni before even finishing her photography degree!" He continues, "I’ve also recently started working with the brand Share the Mic, which is a project that helps brands showcase young black talent. Through the project I met Ejatu Shaw and Callum Malcolm Kelly, two photographers who I believe are headed for really big things."

Since fashion and photography go hand in hand, what kind of change does Rankin hope we'll start to see from this industry? "I’ve never understood the impulse to treat fashion like it isn’t part of the real world. I know in magazines it's all about fantasy, but when you fence it off from real things happening in the world you give the fashion industry a place to hide – an excuse to not worry about real issues. Fashion is such an integral part of culture: not everyone goes to the movies or reads novels but everyone wears clothes. It's important that the fashion industry as a whole understands its impact on the world, and is actively changing their working practices to work for a better future."

As we all begin to navigate our own worlds post- COVID, what does Rankin feel the future of fashion photography looks like? "Wow, big question," he admits. "Interestingly, what I’ve seen happen over the last 12 months pre-and post-Covid is that people are getting more political. That is a very big shift in fashion; up until recently, there would only be a few people making statements – now everyone is joining in. I think that’s brilliant and I hope it continues!"

As for the future, he says "Who knows what the next fashion week will look like? But the future of fashion is digital. It’s listening to the virality of information and how data, trends and the internet have made an impact on our interests and our outlook. Tech allows great connectivity, and what we’ve noticed since Covid-19 is that even though creatives and designers are not in the same room, the same energy and creativity can be born."

And when it comes to keeping their fingers on the pulse of the next big trend Rankin’s team are renowned for it – so what are they expecting the next big sustainability focused-trend to look like?

"I’ve really loved seeing the rise in upcycling and buying less, so it would be great to see the next sustainability focused-trend born out of this. People now, more than ever, are thinking about what is a necessity and what isn’t. And also people are understanding they can be as creative with their clothing choices, and as fashionable, without having to buy a full new wardrobe every season. I also think it’s amazing that places like Primark are now offering in-store recycling schemes so customers can drop off pre-loved items for recycling, stopping them going to landfill. It’s amazing and a great step towards a better future."