Surfaces and Strategies – Considering Other Photographers and their Photobooks – Rankin
“Male Nudes. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It’s definitely intriguing. This is not the smooth , rolling landscape of the female body – this is a much bigger challenge – the awkward, jutting affront of the male. According to Rankin, ‘the female forms much more beautiful to photograph, which I think has something to do with the history of images. But also, women haven’t got a dangly cock and bollocks between their legs’.”
– (Rankin, 2001: no number on page)
Figure 1: Rankin. Anthony Agbaje. 2000
Rankin’s body of work ‘Male Nudes’ was produced to raise awareness of Cancer Research’s Everyman Campaign for testicular and prostrate cancer.
Rankin’s work challenges our societies distaste and general non-acceptance of the naked male form being displayed. The campaign aimed to break down a fundamental lack of awareness of male cancers and to encourage men to be more self-aware.
But how much has society changed since Rankin’s involvement with the campaign in 2001? By my reckoning, not much. Apart from the front cover, the remaining images in Rankin’s body of work are not available via a Google image search. Instead, the search yields various female nudes. Rankin’s aim was to “offer a commentary on the disparity between the prevalence of naked women and the almost total absence of naked men in popular culture. Without expecting to be able to substantially alter the imbalance, Male Nudes goes far in explaining why we shun the male form in the mainstream media : it’s too unruly, too frank, too disturbing.”(Rankin, 2001: back cover)
So, Rankin gets it. This imbalance isn’t going to change overnight and we have to keep plugging away at it. The images in this photobook are humorous and yet sensitive. The images are funny and sexy at the same time. The image shot with the angel wings (in figure 2 below) is audacious and theatrical. The scratch-off panel (which is really there) adds humour to the image. The viewer wants to rub off the panel, but daren’t for fear of what might lie underneath. The engagement with the image is increased as what isn’t revealed in an image is just as important as what is.
The models he used responded to an anonymous advertisement in the London Time Out Magazine. Men were offered the chance to present their suggestions for shoots. Rankin then photographed the most interesting ideas.
Figure 2: Rankin. 2001
The images in figure 2 are photographs I took of various pages in the book to show the kind of images Rankin took and included. The images offer us a glimpse of the thoughts of the men and of the humour injected by Rankin’s practice.
The video below shows the photobook. You will notice that I skip over a page and do not show one image. This is because the image shows a naked toddler and I did not want this on my blog. There are several reasons really, the main one being that as a teacher it would not be acceptable to my employer for this image to be published on my blog.
Rankin has presented the images in different formats throughout the book. Some are stand-alone images alongside a blank white page, whilst others are side by side. There are images that spread over 2 pages or 1.5 pages. Rankin has included both black and white as well as colour images.
The book has a gallery feel to it. The white pages are very reminiscent of that. The stand-alone images have an impact. Within the book, there is really no other image that they could have been paired with. The white page opposite gives you time to digest the image and gives space to be able to appreciate the humour and message of the image.
The paired images compliment each other and are not as strong as the single images in my opinion. They work well as a pair though.
The images spread over the 2 pages vary in their success for me. The least successful one for me is the hotdog image. The gutter over the book spine makes it difficult for the full effect of the image to be appreciated.
Looking through the book, it did occur to me that Rankin may have varied his use of pages in this way to suit the format in which he shot the images. He has printed to the edge of each page and his images are presented in 3 formats – landscape over 2 pages, portrait on one page and square over 1.5 or 1.3 pages. It does add interest to the viewer of the book, but I am not a fan of printing over the gutter.
Figure 3: Rankin. 2001
The blue pages at either end of the book symbolise the male form. I do find it tricky though to read the pale blue text on the white pages (figure 3). This is not text you could read in a dark room. The text has a small font size which only adds to the difficulty in reading it.
Each image is credited in the back of the book, with the person’s name and a short bio about them and why they took part in the project. This is well done. I am particularly interested in the shoot dates and the locations of the shoots. If find this information is often lacking in photobooks.
Overall, this is a successful photobook in my opinion. Whilst it hasn’t dramatically changed the world in terms of the consumer being subjected to images of the male nude alongside the female nude, it has raised awareness of the disparity.
Figure 4: Rankin. 2001
As a society, we understand and can comprehend an image of a female nude. It makes sense to use, even if that sense is defined in terms of the model’s size and shape. The male nude is still alien to us. We do not see the naked male form reproduced around us and this needs to change. I think Rankin’s book has opened the eyes of the viewer to this and should leave us asking ‘why is one form of nudity more acceptable than the other?’
Rankin, T. (2001). Male nudes. London: Vision On.
Figure 1: Amazon.co.uk. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rankin-Male-Nudes/dp/1903399130 [Accessed 17 July 2017].
Figure 2: Rankin, T. (2001). Male nudes. London: Vision On.
Figure 3: Rankin, T. (2001). Male nudes. London: Vision On.
Figure 4: Rankin, T. (2001). Male nudes. London: Vision On.