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Art

Behind the scenes of Rankin’s historic portrait of King Charles for Big Issue

Celebrated superstar photographer Rankin on his royal cover shoot for Big Issue

Rankin is the country’s most renowned photographer working today. He has captured the icons of our age – The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bowie and many more stars – as well as using his lens to bring attention to good causes. 

When the opportunity to work together to create a new portrait around King Charles’ 75th birthday and highlight the Coronation Food Project, Rankin was well up for it. 

“It was an absolute honour to shoot this specifically for Big Issue and specifically around the Coronation Food Project, which I’m a big supporter of, and is something we don’t talk about enough,” Rankin says. 

“He was very funny and super charming,” he says about his royal shoot. “He knew exactly what it was for. I got the impression that he’s very switched on and very engaged person in terms of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.” 

The portrait Rankin took shows a fresh, rarely seen side of our monarch. 

“With every picture, you’re always drawn to different aspects of a personality,” Rankin explains. “I’ve always thought that he’s a very resilient human being. I think that’s what I got from him, that kind of steely determination.” 

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Queen Elizabeth agaisnt a Union Jack flag
Queen Elizabeth for her Golden Jubilee Image: Rankin

This is not Rankin’s first historic royal portrait. He photographed the Queen in 2001 to mark her Golden Jubilee. 

“Lots of people come up to me and say she just looks so real, even though I retouched it a lot, but the eyes and the smile are really authentic and genuine. I want to show you something about a person that you haven’t seen. So with the Queen, it was certainly the humour and the humanity.” 

Rankin says that after years in the business, it isn’t daunting to work with global superstars. 

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“When I photographed the Queen, I’d probably been taking photographs for about 14 years,” he says. “I’d been in a number of hotel lobbies or weird places for five minutes with a band that you’d probably never heard of, with a lead singer that was particularly difficult, so the Queen’s a walk in the park. Different photographers have different techniques. Mine is a bit of a chat and collaboration.” 

Spice Girls
Spice Girls by Rankin

Rankin first collaborated with The Big Issue and a bunch of girl power when he photographed the Spice Girls for us in 1997. 

James Bowen and Bob by Rankin

In 2018, he captured the biggest of all Big Issue icons when he photographed James Bowen and Street Cat Bob for a series raising awareness for pet charity Blue Cross. 

“They were quite extraordinary,” he remembers. “Cats are probably one of the hardest animals to photograph because unless they’re kittens – and this is a professional speaking – they don’t react to anything. Cats do not care. We always have to have a squeaky toy onset.” 

This week’s cover portrait brings Rankin’s career full-circle, in a way. “I’ve done work for the Prince’s Trust a few times and I went through it when I was starting my business right at the beginning,” he says. 

Now Rankin is helping other photographers develop their careers in the industry. He has launched a new BBC Maestro course: An Introduction to Photography, joining others in the series including Carol Ann Duffy on writing poetry, Mark Ronson on music production, Sir Billy Connolly on comedy, Edgar Wright on filmmaking and Jed Mercurio on writing drama. 

Rankin self portrait
Image: Rankin

Rankin emphasises the difference between taking a photograph and making a photograph. 

“With smartphones, anybody can take a picture because it’s so easy. The technology that’s in a phone is equivalent to shooting on a 35-millimetre DSLR – if you use it right. So anyone – your granny – can take a good picture because photography at its most basic is about showing the world how you see it. 

“If you’re going around with a camera phone, and you take enough photos, you’re going to take good ones. The difference between that and making a picture is the construction; you take pictures with a more critical or analytical perspective. 

“It’s a very powerful force, photography, it’s got a lot of ability to change things and change people.”

Visit bbcmaestro.com for more information / @rankinarchive

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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