Legendary Photographer Rankin Celebrated With New Leica Exhibit

The famed photog’s work has been put into focus by camera brand Leica.

Ayami Nishimura by Rankin, Rankin Publishing, 2012 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

“In equal measure elegant and provocative, dynamic and cool, creative and trend-setting—renowned British photographer Rankin’s work is multifaceted, and he has long been considered one of the most sought-after and influential photographers of our time.”

Ewan McGregor, Arena, 2003 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

Leica, the world’s most famous and prestigious camera brand, founded in Germany in 1869, knows a thing or two about iconic images; its cameras have been favored by the likes of Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Annie Leibovitz over the years, to name but a few.

Glow, Hunger, Issue 11, 2016 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

Add to that list Rankin, the brilliant British photographer born in 1966 who is the subject of a recent exhibit staged at the Ernst Leitz Museum in Leica’s hometown of Wetzlar. The words at the beginning come from Leica’s homage to the one-named lensman, who selected his favorite images from the past 30 years for the landmark show; including “many iconic portraits and celebrity shots that have made it into the annals of photographic history: colorful beauty images and classic fashion spreads, as well as examples of his profoundly conceptual series.”

Animal Fashion, Another, Issue 0, 1994 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

Titled Zeitsprünge (Leaps in time), the exhibit enables images from the 1990s to the 2000s to “enter into a dialogue with brand new, never-before-published pictures from 2023.”

Right Way Up Wrong Way Down, Hunger, Issue 9, 2015 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

“Whether someone is famous or not, it’s about the humanity of a person,” Rankin told the London Observer about his approach to portraiture. “Not the ego or the celebrity or the fame. I’m trying to reach the person with the photography. And photography can be very intimate. I’m almost trying to break the fourth wall with my work.”

Nailed it, Hunger, The Beauty Issue, 2019 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

As for his perspective, “I can see all of these things that mean as much to me now as they meant to me back when I started photography,” he notes. “A lot of photographers when they get to a museum status—they’re kind of done with their careers. Whereas I’m willing to engage with the show’s concept in a way that when you go in, you’re seeing both something new and how it relates to the stuff that’s a bit older.”

Scream, Hunger Issue 12, 2016 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

Rankin has managed more than most of his contemporaries to retain his edge and his coolness, but less through any scheme to hang on to them than his undeniable skill with the camera and dedication.

The Wilderness, S Magazine, Issue 3, 2012 (Leica/The Rankin Group)

“There’s always some kid that will come along and be better and hotter in terms of people loving it,” as he told the paper. “I’ve been that kid. You lose it and you have to regain your status. To have been doing it for 30 years and still enjoying it and being successful and doing great work is a real privilege, but I have to work my ass off.”

Among the many celebrities Rankin has photographed over the years include Queen Elizabeth II, David Bowie, Ewan McGregor, Björk, Vivienne Westwood, Kate Moss, and Heidi Klum. In addition to numerous ad campaigns, including Belstaff and The Macallan, he shot the visual art for the 2015 James Bond film Spectre, as well as covers for the likes of Elle, Esquire, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, GQ, and Rolling Stone; and music videos for artists ranging from Iggy Azalea, Kelis and Future.

Klum, one of best friends, also brought him on as a guest judge for Germany’s Next Top Model, the hugely popular show for which Klum serves as lead judge and executive producer, leading to his becoming something of a household name in Germany.

Almost as well known, perhaps, as Leica itself, whose legendary reputation, they note, “is based on a long tradition of excellent quality, German craftsmanship and German industrial design, combined with innovative technologies.”

However it is their equal devotion to the advancement of photography as an art form, from the Leica Galleries and Leica Akademies around the world, to the Leica Hall of Fame Award, the Leica Oskar Barnack Award—and exhibitions such as Rankin’s—that helps ensure their continued iconic status.