Maya Angelou wisely wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When photographing his subjects, the British portrait photographer, Rankin, is known for making people feel special. Whether he’s capturing Queen Elizabeth or a care taker, the subject being photographed knows they matter.
Rankin, who has photographed everyone including The Rolling Stones, Madonna and Idris Elba recently joined forces with with CSL Behring to launch the exhibit Portraits of Progress. The multi-media exhibit spotlights the experience of what it’s like to live with hemophilia. This powerful show lays out the evolution of treatment of the disease from the mid-20th Century, when remedies involved bee stings, to present day. It also offers hope with potential future treatments like gene therapy.
On June 10 Rankin’s first stateside exhibit in three years debuted in New York City. Portraits of Progress, which features personal stories, archival images, and a timeline of key scientific discoveries, was as powerful for Rankin as it was for the subjects. In addition to shooting those living with hemophilia, he also photographed healthcare professionals and caregivers. The exhibition will be open to the public June 10-June 19 from 10:00am – 6:00pm. It will also be available virtually at www.portraitsofprogress.com.
Rankin shared more.
What was the joy of doing Portraits of Progress?
I had very little knowledge of Hemophilia, apart from what I learned as a kid. When I was little I learned that this disorder does not allow your blood to clot. That was all I knew. So it was interesting getting to know how debilitating it was when medicines were being developed in the forties and fifties. It's always very exciting to learn there are medicines out there that are doing positive things and it's a great moment where medicine can be positive. Also, meeting people whose life wouldn't have been possible pre the development is very life affirming. I love doing projects where I'm reminded how photography can show how powerful life is.
Why was it key to not just spotlight those living with hemophilia but also include caretakers and parents?
Hemophilia is one of those diseases that impact everybody around the patient. It's not just the patient, but also everybody around the patient too. And the fact that it is a community and a very strong community. To create a show like this where you can just walk in off the street and learn all this stuff and also see positive an impact it has had on all of these people is exciting.
You gravitate towards campaigns that make a difference. Why is that so key for you?
I like doing campaigns like this because I feel very privileged. I was 30 when I had my kid and was a glamorous fashion photographer living a very hedonistic life in London. My parents had never brought me up to live this very shallow kind of life. I didn't want ten years later to be embarrassed about what I was doing with my life. That moment was a trigger to make me look at what I was doing in my life and also what my work was about. I realized that photography can tell incredible stories and my skill is being able to capture those incredible stories in a picture. I just thought, I've gotta give something back.
I thought, I earn a lot of money. I've got a beautiful son. I've got an incredible job. I love what I do. My parents always told me, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." And from that I realized that I needed to balance up the books. I couldn't just take, take, take. I needed to get something back. And the minute I realized that, I started to do lots of projects of purpose. I began to work for lots of charities and NGOs. Interestingly when my parents passed away, I confronted death in a way that I'd never was prepared for and wasn't ready for it. That's also when I became very interested in illnesses and subjects that makes us feel intimidated. That's why I'm drawn to them. I’ve learned that getting those conversations out there is half the battle.
How did working on this campaign change you?
Every campaign that you do where you meet people who, because of this or that wouldn't be alive, brings you back down to earth. It reminds you that we're all the same. And you should really respect what you've been given in your health and career.
How is it different taking a photo of the subjects in this exhibit versus the Queen?
It's pretty much the same. My parents imbued me with a wonderful outlook on life, which was don't look down on people. If you treat people as equals, you will be treated as an equal. There were a few moments when I became famous and successful where I forgot that. And I was a bit of an idiot. I’ve moved on from that. And I am reminded to treat people that they are important, whether they are the Queen or someone who is not famous. They are all human beings.
When did you know you had to be photographer, that this was your path?
The first time I picked up a camera and looked into it was a light bulb moment. I thought, this is what I want to do. Every few months I would take a picture and just be reaffirmed.
Where were you in your life?
I about to turn 21 and living in a place called Weather Garden City in the United Kingdom, which is just outside London. I was studying to be an accountant. A friend of mine had a camera and I said, “Can I go and take some pictures?” I remember being in a water park. There was one kid standing right in front of a swimming pool. And I looked through the lens and I thought, oh my God, I'm the only person seeing this moment. And it was amazing.
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