My Cultural Life: Rankin

The photographer and director shares the books, movies and music that have shaped his life


From Madonna and Kate Moss to David Bowie and the Queen herself, mononymous British photographer and director Rankin has spent three decades capturing all kinds of royalty. Well-embedded in fashion and pop culture, he co-founded Dazed & Confused magazine with Jefferson Hack in 1991, launched his own creative agency in 2019 and has directed music videos for Miley Cyrus and Rita Ora. His latest book, An Exploding World (Rankin Publishing, £45), is a meditative collection of still lifes that present delicate images of destruction.

The first album I really loved was All Mod Cons by The Jam. I bought it when I was about 14 years old and it changed my life. Not coming from a creative background, I was really looking for something that would help me process all that teenage angst.

the jam all mod cons third album released november 1978
The Jam’s 1978 album All Mod Cons
Lenscap / Alamy Stock Photo

I recently watched the documentary on the Sparks brothers by Edgar Wright, and I feel like I’ve rediscovered them. The Number One Song in Heaven is a genius piece of pop music.

My all-time favourite piece of music? Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber is up there.

I’m an avid reader and enjoy lots of genres. The Paddington books were the first I read on my own as a child and they’re just fantastic. Looking back now, I really feel that I found my way through that little contrarian of a bear, who is all love but seriously inquisitive and prone to putting his paw in the marmalade.

The best show I’ve seen lately is Inventing Anna. It’s so reflective of the time that we’re living in. One of my favourite TV shows of the last year is Physical, which is so clever – layered, complex and thought-provoking. I also loved It’s a Sin. I wish I’d known half of what was going on then, as I would have tried to be more of an ally. Genius from Russell T Davies, as usual!

cinema paradiso
Cinema Paradiso
Everett Collection, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
My favourite film is Cinema Paradiso, but I’m also a massive fan of Martin Scorsese, so I’ll choose Goodfellas too. I think The Revenant is a work of art and I don’t think you can go wrong with The Godfather. The making of the film, Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli by Mark Seal, is a brilliant read.

The best exhibition I’ve ever seen was ‘Sleeping with Ghosts’, a show of Don McCullin’s work at the Barbican in 1997. It floored me. I’d always wanted to be a documentary photographer and that exhibition has stayed with me.

My favourite piece of art in a gallery is Daphne and Apollo, a sculpture by Bernini that is on display at Villa Borghese in Rome. It has to be seen to be believed.

I love podcasts. I’d recommend Prime Ministerial, hosted by The New Statesman, which is an analysis of each of the last six serving prime ministers in descending order. It’s fantastic listening if you’re remotely interested in politics.

aerial shot of st martins, isles of scilly, cornwall, united kingdom, europe
Scilly Isles
robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

I’m more of a hoarder than a collector, which frustrates everyone in my life. I do collect photography, and I would recommend that everybody buys something they love. One of my favourites is a picture of Mick Jagger by David Montgomery. If I won the lottery, I’d get a Cindy Sherman.

My favourite place in the world is the beautiful Scilly Isles, though I haven’t been for ages. Next up, we’re hoping to head to Morocco with lots of friends for my wife’s birthday in September.

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