One of the best photography exhibitions in London at the moment is Performance by Rankin, a free show being held at the Fujifilm House of Photography in Covent Garden. It’s a collection of portraits of various actors, directors and technical/support staff from London’s theatreland, and really captures the resilience and vibrancy of this vital cultural asset. We caught up with Rankin to find out more

Rankin shooting Performance

How did you get involved in the Performance project and whose idea was it?
A friend of mine came up with the idea before the pandemic hit. At the time I said to him, “this is far too big and complicated.” But when the pandemic hit and we saw all of our friends go out of work, that’s when we felt that it was the right moment to start thinking about it again.

Once all the theatres looked like they were coming back to life, we started planning the shoots.

Alfred Enoch as Romeo at Shakespeare’s Globe, credit Rankin

How did you choose which actors/subjects to cover?
To make this project happen, we were supported by the Society of London Centre. Emma DeSouza was our contact there and she really helped put it together, including choosing the productions, actors and the support teams.

You have done a lot of portrait work with actors before, right?
I’m a massive film and theatre fan so yes, I’ve been photographing actors for years. For example, I also did a whole project with the British Independent Film Awards back in 2014, where I photographed over 50 actors, directors and producers in celebration of the immense talent in British filmmaking.

Emmie Ray and Carl Man, Ensemble Members in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre (c) Rankin

What makes theatre and all the creative industries so compelling for me is that it is always a team effort. You have to collaborate. To make theatre, photography and film really work, we have to do things in real life. We can’t do them virtually. The exhibition and the show are a celebration of that concept.

It’s so critically important for us to experience performance in real life, and be inspired by it.

Paul Whitehouse in Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, at The Haymarket. Credit Rankin

Was it a lot of pressure to complete the shoot and print the images so quickly, in just one day? It must have been a very long shift…
It wasn’t too bad actually. Half the fun of it was making it with that much pressure. The energy you get from making work that fast is so exciting, and it’s like bottling some kind of spirit.

For me the experience was quite emotional. Although I wasn’t entirely locked down for the last year and a half my work has definitely been different, more contemplative.

It was just amazing for me to meet and photograph the energy of all of these incredible people who have suffered so much.

David Harewood as William F Buckley Jr. in Best of Enemies at the Young Vic. Credit Rankin

Which are your favourite images, and why?
My favourites are the pictures where the actors or support teams are being more playful with the camera.

I love it when the images are slightly cheeky, for example the image of Mary Poppins and Bert. As a character he would never kiss Mary Poppins in a million years, so it’s quite fun to play with that.

Also the images of Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII and Rosanna Adams as Anna of Cleves in the Mirror and the Light. Those characters would never engage in that way either, but we could play with their relationship in front of the camera.

During the shoots I laughed at the time because I felt like a modern day Holbein, capturing the full range of emotions.

Gabrielle Brooks as Rita Marley and Arinzé Kene as Bob Marley in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at the Lyric Theatre. Credit Rankin

Was this the first time you’d shot on Fujifilm GFX100 camera gear and if so, did it take some getting used to?

Amazingly enough it was my first experience with the camera. It didn’t really take that much getting used to, as I’ve been taking photographs for 30 years. The technology has obviously got better, but the basics are the same. I can definitely say that it’s a good piece of kit!

So what did you like best about the camera?
I have to say this is one of the fastest – a camera that could keep up with me, Also a lot of super high-res-capture cameras can freeze when you’re shooting at the speed and volume necessary for this project, but the GFX was on top form the whole time. I was shooting very, very fast.

I love the studio and team at the Fujifilm House of Photography on Long Acre and will certainly be working with them as much as I can.

Stephanie Lo, Lioness and DanceCaptain in-Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. Credit Rankin

The images are wonderfully rich, detailed and sharp. Which were your favourite lenses?
The wide-angle lens was my favourite. It’s got a very close focal point which meant I could get extremely tight into my subjects.

That kind of intimacy is something that I love to do because you really feel the subjects looking through the lens at the viewer.

Rory Kinnear in Force Majeure at The Donmar Warehouse, credit Rankin

Was much post-shoot processing required?
Hardly any at all.

Were there any ‘archive’ shots used?
No, there wasn’t any archive imagery used – everything was shot for the exhibition and book.

Further reading
” I don’t want to be the Simon Cowell of photography:” Rankin