Portfolio: Naked ambition

`Nude models wanted - any age, any size'. The advert could have been placed by the seediest of seedy backstreet studios. In fact, it was the brainchild of one of the world's most in-demand and respected photographers. Portraits by Rankin. Photographs by Gautier Deblonde. Words by Susannah Frankel

When Rankin - the photographer and publisher of the achingly fashionable style magazine Dazed & Confused - placed an advert in London listings title Time Out saying "Nudes wanted for photographic exhibition - any age, any size," he could not have anticipated such a vast response.

One after another, applications (for the most part female) poured in. And this despite the fact that he had name-checked neither the magazine nor himself - Rankin has famously photographed everyone from Madonna to Kate Moss, from George Michael to Damien Hirst - preferring instead for subjects to come to the project with no preconceived ideas. As well as photographing "real" people for this project, Rankin has shot models (from the little-known to the supers) and celebrities (Sadie Frost, Kylie Minogue, Tim Burton's wife Lisa-Marie).

Initially, subjects were invited to visit the Dazed HQ in Old Street where their (nude) Polaroid was taken by an assistant. They were then asked to explain how they would like to be photographed and this was written on the back of the Polaroid.

Rankin points to one of his favourite entries. "Generally, I want something that doesn't look like a Weightwatchers `before' ad," it reads, "or a Rubens. And I want to look happy." A second features a musician (female) who wants to be photographed with a conductor's baton between her teeth and a third comes courtesy of a pretty 19-year-old who says she wants to be photographed with her teddy and "definitely with my tennis shoes on". "Wild, isn't it?" says Rankin.

The photographer insists that the project is entirely interactive: when the results go on display in September at London's Proud Gallery, videos explaining why each person wanted to be photographed, and in what way, will play alongside. Ideas range from the political to the pornographic.

He grins broadly. "There's a woman (`a practising Catholic') who wants to be shot at the point of orgasm, her wrists and ankles bound by rosary beads. Harems seem to be pretty popular too, although don't ask me why." In each instance, he says, he will be only too happy to oblige.

I ask him if he feels nervous. "Nah. I've photographed Madonna ... " He points out that nerves and extreme reverence do not a great photograph make. "When I photographed Boy George, I was like [puts his head to one side and looks cute] `Ooh George.' I mean, if I was homosexual ... They're the worst pictures of him ever taken." n

Ann Weiss Rankin intends to shoot everyone, over the age of 18, who's responded to the advert. "I worry when they look too thin or too innocent but if they want to be photographed ... " It is true that the images he creates both in fashion photography and portraiture are more confrontational than most. It was Ann's idea to be photographed naked, but covered in black paint - an effect that is not clear at first glance.

Elise Godsen

Elise ("Don't ask me my age") Godsen wanted to be photographed covered in hands. "I collect hands and crosses so I turned up to the shoot with a basket full of ceramic hands. But Rankin was more interested in real ones. I thought it was quite funny. I suppose it is an ego-trip thing. People have got a lot of hang-ups about nudity, but that's not my problem. I mean, what's pornographic? There's a very fine line. I'm not doing anything to be ashamed of and, in the portrait, I've got a regal look on my face which is like ... " she searches for the words: "Don't mess with me."

Alanah Thomson "I wanted to be photographed somewhere real," says Alanah, who was eight months pregnant at the time of this shoot. Rankin took her to an east London council estate where, until she took her dress off, the area was deserted. "Then all these kids gathered around," Alanah, 30, remembers. "I loved the idea of the purity of motherhood against the gritty buildings. And as I'm the same size as the tower block, I think it looks empowering."

Rachel Welch Rachel, 28, asked to be styled like a Thirties film star. Her hair and make-up are more than a little reminiscent of a modern-day Louise Brooks. Rachel works as an artist's model and says that being drawn nude is "one of the most empowering things you can do". Rankin photographed Rachel looking straight to camera, lying on her side, with her knees drawn up close to her chest. The elegance with which she manoeuvres her body is remarkable. "I loved shooting her" says Rankin - and it's easy to see why.

Fiona Brice After Fiona, 24, met Rankin, she went home and had the idea to be photographed in a shopping trolley. "I don't know where it came from," she says. "We wanted something witty and strong." Shot in an underground garage, Fiona was slightly alarmed when cars started to drive down the corridor towards her. "The crew were very professional, and immediately threw my clothes at me," she remembers. "But since I'd already taken them off in front of everyone, I wasn't that bothered." Despite often being compared to David Bailey (in more ways than one), Rankin insists that he is keeping any more basic urges well under control. He admits, however, that he feels "a bit like a kid in a sweetshop. But I don't want it to look like Loaded. I've got to get a grip. I'm not going to say I don't like women because I do and there's nothing wrong with flirting. It is erotic, it is sexy - I would be lying if I said it wasn't. But this is as much about the differences between people as anything else, that's what interests me most."

Rankin is still looking for models. Call 0171-336 0766 for more information.

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