Rankin’s bow is very well strung. He’s a magazine editor. A gallerist. A documentarian. A director. And, foremost, a photographer, who’s shot everyone from Arnie to the Queen. They were both clothed. But for much of his career, he’s photographed women in various states of undress, many of which he’s now collected in a tome that you might want to hide when your folks come round – the revealingly titled #NSFW.

Available now from TeNeues, the book brings together Rankin’s most provocative photographs, which span a 25-year career that’s always celebrated the female form. To mark the release, we chatted to him about who he’s shot, why he’s shot them and what he’s learnt about nudity along the way.

FashionBeans: Why did you decide to do this book now?
Rankin: Twenty-five years into my career seemed like a good time to pause and have a look back. I loved the process of going through the archives and stepping back through a career’s worth of photographs.

The title is obviously a nod to the internet, but is obviously published in print. What’s behind that play-off?
My career can almost be split in half by the introduction of digital.

Half my archive is analogue, the other half digital, so it felt kind of apt to ply the two off together in this way. Also we live in an age where so much of what we consume is online and ethereal. I liked the idea of doing something that referenced the Internet and how we digest information but had a physical object to look at and touch. So much of photography is about the senses and the more you can immerse yourself in that the better.

It’s also a little bit naughty and fun… whether you’re flicking through it in a bookshop or have it on your coffee table. You can’t hide it on a screen behind your emails!

#nsfw - Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.
#nsfw - Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.

It’s also a phrase used for images designed purely to arouse. Where does the distinction lie between a picture that’s erotic and pornographic?
This is a debate that’s being going on forever. For me personally the female nude is a beautiful thing and I enjoy putting a fun slant on it.

Everyone’s opinion is different and loaded when it comes to nudity but good erotic imagery is fun, smart and intelligence, whether through emotion or composition or both.

What do you look for in a nude model? What characteristics make for great images?
It’s no different from a non nude model, I look for personality first and foremost. That’s always the starting point. Any photograph I take is a collaboration with my subject. It’s them giving a part of themselves to the camera and that relies upon a trust and understanding with the photographer.

From then on it can be fun and there’s a certain frisson to it, especially with nudity. If you look at my work, there’s no false idea of perfection; I celebrate our idiosyncrasies and the things that make us unique.

#nsfw - Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.
#nsfw - Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.

How do you think nudes have changed during your career?
I think attitudes have changed towards ‘imagery’ more than anything. They seem to be loaded with nuance and meaning, which comes from a place of critique or analysis. There are also the image police, who want to see the bad or negative in everything.

In my eyes it is the responsibility of a photographer to challenge the viewer and stimulate conversation. I want to create work that makes you think or feel something. Even it just to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Who’s the dream person you’d like to shoot nude?
Haha, good question. My wife Tuuli is my dream subject. So many of the photos in the book including the cover are of her. She also features in all of the photos for the perfume launch.

#nsfw - Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.
#nsfw - Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.

You also have a just-as-provocatively titled fragrance launching. How do you bottle something like sex?
It’s not so much bottling sex as something more ethereal: that thrill or excitement that physical, emotional and sexual attraction can give us. It creates adrenaline and hedonism in the present and long-lasting memories. That’s what I look for in my work.

I worked closely with Azzi Glasser and she got it straight away. There’s both an intimacy and brazenness to it. I also though it would be fun to be able to give somebody some sex as a present.

#NSFW by Rankin, published by teNeues, is available now at teneues.com, priced €98. Also available as Collector’s Edition.

Photo © 2016 Rankin. All rights reserved.