Photographer Andrew Rankin speaks to Hausmag about his recent collection Close to You which exhibited at both the Belfast Exposed Gallery in Northern Ireland and Peckham 24 in London, where his works were received with much acclaim. Rankin’s collection is a social commentary, exploring the relationship between the general public and the media in what Rankin labels as ‘escapist fantasies.’
The concept of escapism is something which has featured throughout much of the artist’s work. In previous projects, Andrew has focused his interest on people who live their lives in an augmented reality, those who choose to blur the lines of real and fantasy life on a day-to-day basis. In his previous project, Superheroes, Rankin depicts a series of people who take their escapist fantasies to the extreme, by living their lives as real-life superheroes. These people attempt to improve society in some shape or form through charitable deeds such as giving out blankets and food to the homeless or actively trying to stop crime.
For some in this study, the outfit empowers whilst for others it simply helps bring attention to the causes they are involved in. For all, it demonstrates a sense of altruism, and a strong belief in what they are doing.
In Close to You, the artist made a series of screen portraits of famous Hollywood actresses from the big screen. The photographer describes these captures as ‘moments I felt were intimate, or could be a shared moment.’ The movies that these images are captured from are irrelevant in the Close to You series, the resulting abstraction of the images comes from a desire to focus on detail. “In these moments prevails the sensation of being beside them, gazing, appreciating, sharing a moment.”
Rankin explores our relationship with the media with a focus on the way in which we build relationships with celebrities across various mediums, most predominantly through the narrative of film. Close to You attempts to capture those intimate moments when our relationship with big screen stars can become interchangeable, providing a vessel for our desires.
Rankin also visited a number of filming locations in London, where some of these movies were made. The concept was to express the idea of a lonesome search, a futile attempt to seek the unobtainable. These landscapes play an important role in setting the mood of the exhibition, “they’re all about being enclosed, feeling isolated or alone, with grey skies and muted palettes. There are small moments within them to breathe and appreciate details, just enough to prevent things becoming claustrophobic.”
Ciara Hickey, the curator of Belfast Exposed, played a pivotal role in setting up the Close to You exhibition. Together they explored ideas about framing and print sizes, with an awareness of how the different options could acutely affect the meaning of the work. All but one of the portraits are relatively small (16×13 inches) promoting a sense of intimacy vital to the exhibition’s narrative. The exception is a large 80×64 inch composition made of four prints, Rankin comments, “it adds a completely new dynamic to the show and hopefully the viewers understanding of the other portraits and the work as a whole.” The scale of the image intensifies the effect of the pixels, drawing attention to the presence of a television in the image. “Suddenly, we have an image that is only viewable from beyond a certain distance, as we get closer in, it becomes unknowable.”
Adding further dimension to the exhibition, Rankin has written a series of letters to the actresses depicted in Close to You, asking them to take part in his project. With an air of childlike naivety, these letters give a sense of form and identity to a character who harbours these ‘escapist fantasies.’
“We all indulge in a bit of fantasy to improve our lives and like most things, some take it to an extreme.”
Andrew is currently exhibiting at the Milk Café in Glasgow, in the second of three collaborative exhibitions by The Forgotten Collective and Belfast Photo Factory. Each exhibition has an accompanying ‘zine, designed by Alex McCooke.
With special thanks to Andrew Rankin for his insightful words and artistic inspirations.