Warning: The pictures in the gallery above are of an explicit nature
“Porn objectifies women, but erotica doesn’t,” explains renowned British photographer Rankin. While he acquiesces that pictures of pouting blondes wearing nothing but stiletto spikes on the pages of Playboy are not usually considered art, Rankin’s new exhibition, jokingly entitled ‘Cheeky’, seeks to dispel the mist of seediness surrounding erotica and to bring it out from beneath grubby mattresses.
“I called the exhibition Cheeky because I thought it was funny,” Rankin says during an interview. A shot of a pair of perfectly pert buttocks emblazoned with the exhibition’s title is a testament to his playfulness; as is the creative wit with which he displays the scantily clad bodies of his, usually female, models throughout the collection.
“I always feel I have to defend my erotic photographs because they come from a very selfish place,” he explains. “A lot of my work tries to be humorous about celebrities and fashion because I find fashion so funny.” Unaffected by the pomp of celebrity (“There’s a lot of crap around photographing celebrities”), Rankin enjoys literally stripping his subjects down.
“I don’t think I’m a very good fashion photographer because I find clothes very boring,” he says, despite having had a remarkably successful career snapping waiflike models and having co-founded fashion magazine Dazed & Confused. “There are a lot of good things about fashion shoots of course, but there are so many connotations. I prefer the purity of nudes.”
He’s very well known for being persuasive. “A lot of models say things like ‘You got me to take my clothes off much more quickly than I normally would,’” he chuckles. “But it’s a totally safe environment and I never make them feel uncomfortable. I mean come on, I’m married.” His wife, Tuuli Shipster, is Rankin’s favourite model. “I take a lot of erotic shots of my wife. It’s kind of our game and we really enjoy doing it,” he says. He even admits taking risqué photographs of himself.
“I have turned the tables on myself and done nude self portraits. I did a few at college and then about four of five years ago I started taking some again because I felt I needed to remind myself how it felt being the subject,” he says, referring to his 2005 project, also jokingly titled, ‘At last I’ve found true love.’
“I created a set of images of myself naked that were radically retouched to the point of being humorous. They are a funny set of photos!” he says laughing. “Someone said in a review of them that I must be ridiculously self obsessed and narcissistic, but I found that hilarious because it was so obviously an ironic statement.”
Rankin did a shoot with a 1,000 members of the British public last year, a project called 'Rankin Live', and he found it surprising how many normal people asked to be photographed naked or said they’d like to do something a bit sexy. “I reckon people actually feel more inhibited about having their portraits taken than doing nudes. They find it more revealing. More people get upset and cry, not because they are unhappy with the picture, but because they feel like I’ve really seen them.”
He has a well documented relationship with Playboy magazine and its American publisher Hugh Hefner wrote the foreword for a book which accompanies Rankin’s Cheeky exhibit. He says: “I put Hugh Hefner in [the book] because for a lot of people he is the statesman of erotica and has somehow avoided being caught up in the seediness associated with porn.”
Rankin admits that there is a fine line between pornography and erotica, but is wary about defining it because, as he explains, everybody’s perspective on it is variable. While he hopes his Cheeky exhibition won’t provoke a scandalised reaction, he refrains from condemning pornography, as if to say “Who am I to judge?”