“I usually have an assistant to do this for me,” Rankin joked as we posed for a selfie at the Fashion & Textile Museum at the launch of Missoni Art Colour in 2016, while I wondered whether this counted as being shot by Rankin. Two years on and the rise of selfie culture is no longer a laughing matter for the celebrity snapper, famed for lensing the likes of David Bowie, Kate Moss, Tinie Tempah and Dua Lipa.
In February this year, he unleashed Selfie Harm, a shocking photo series where teens were invited to filter their portraits until they felt they were Insta-worthy, placing the two images side by side in a startling indictment of the impact of image-editing apps. Now he’s back with Selfie Control - a call to action offering the creative community the opportunity to join him on set to create the ultimate self-portrait. In a refreshingly honest and much-needed conversation with Grazia Editor in Chief Alison Tay, Rankin explains why this needs to happen now.
I’m guessing Selfie Control isn’t an attack on selfies per se, but a statement about the implications of being so involved with your own image, and a stance against the dumbing down of the art of photography?
Exactly - a bit of both really. In my mind, selfies are the worst form of self-expression, they’re just two-dimensional branding exercises. They're the opposite of what it means to truly look at yourself. We’re encouraged online to be self-absorbed, sharing everything of our lives for likes. That consolidated with the retouching capabilities of these new apps - that any 12 year old can use - and our vanity is being gamified. It made me feel like doing something totally in opposition to it.
As someone with a 20-year career in fashion, I’ve personally been vilified for projecting unrealistic images of women in magazines which I believe is an unfair accusation without proper context. Is this an experience you’ve shared?
Absolutely. Being part of the fashion scene and shooting beauty campaigns when Photoshop took over the industry, I’ve had my fair share of criticism in the past. The difference here though is really evident. Both fashion and advertising have moved on as audiences respond better to reality than fantasy now. People are always going to want to buy into fantasy, but I’ve always tried to show how that is constructed in my work. People are getting better educated and know how to spot the tricks and editing in photographs in the media - but this knowledge isn’t mirrored in how they look at pictures on social media. It’s scary for me that this set of skills gets lost when looking at people’s personal image making. You have the media, some brands and individuals talking about body confidence, but what still gets the most likes is the worst kind of oversimplified image making. Whether that is a crazily retouched selfie or an over-sexualised attempt at erotic, the power of image making is now in the hands of kids that have no idea what they are playing with. Now I’m not saying that this doesn’t have the potential to be positive, I truly believe it does. But we are not debating or discussing it enough.
How do selfies differ from the images you and I put out into the world?
A professional photographer doing this kind of retouching or crass objectification of someone would get called out on it. Yet kids are now copying poses from so-called influencers like the Kardashians and playing with changing their face and body shape in apps like Face Tune or Perfect Me and there is no discussion of the ethics of that. It’s unsettling.
Who needs to take more responsibility for the images we’re exposed to? Do you feel it should be regulated in some way, and how should this happen?
Wow, such a massive question. I think the tech companies need to realise that releasing retouching apps is not the same as bringing Photoshop to the market, which was essentially for professionals. This is kids that are using it and they are designed like games to keep you on the screen as long as you can. Kids are growing up online surrounded by people's fabricated lives, aspiring to look like people whose photos aren’t entirely real. We are in the middle of this digital revolution and we all have a responsibility to discuss it. Tech companies and social-media giants have to ask themselves what are the possible effects of what they are designing and ultimately do they not have some responsibility for it?
Who are you hoping that will enter the competition?
Anyone that feels like they are living a life that is warped by their need to be something fake, beautiful or altered on social-media platforms.
What do they have to do to impress you?
They don’t. They just need to have ideas and put them out there. The thinking alone is a great start - even if you don’t reach out to me, I want to encourage people to stop and think about these issues themselves as well. I want to listen and collaborate. I love to learn things so let's share and work together.
• Email your ideas and moodboards to firstname.lastname@example.org for the attention of Jordan or DM @rankinarchive on Instagram