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Rankin & Damien Hirst: Myths, Monsters and Legends

Working with model Dani Smith, the artist and Dazed founding photographer aims to bring the dreamt-up creatures from classical civilizations, myths, and fairytales to life

Experts at producing boundary-pushing work in their own fields, Rankin and Damien Hirst have temporarily merged minds to create an ambitious new art book, which explores the duo’s mutual fascination with the ancient world, photographed from a contemporary perspective. To honour the release of the suitably titled 'Myths, Monsters and Legends', they have lifted images from the publication to be shown in an exhibition of the same name – showing at the Annroy Gallery from today and until November 5, 2011.

Shaped around her ethereal beauty, Rankin cites the model Dani Smith as key in bringing the dreamt-up creatures from classical civilizations, myths, and fairytales to life. “She was a collaborator in every sense,’ the photographer explains. “She really inhabited the character and the project as a whole, and she steered its course as much as Damien and I did”. We got in touch with Rankin to find out more… 

Dazed Digital: Why did you choose to work with model Dani Smith?
Damien introduced me to Dani after he had been working with her on a long-term project. Dani and Damien work closely together and she very much understood the way we wanted to go with this project. We were all intrigued by the idea of taking something really beautiful, and making it ugly. Obviously, Dani is very beautiful, but she was open to leveraging that beauty and contrasting it with the ugliness of the prosthetic creatures that we had made. Dani is a grafter - she went through some incredibly uncomfortable and lengthy fittings and shoot days, that not many other models would have endured like she did. I admire her ambition and her talent. She was the perfect model for this project.

DD: How did you find the process of collaborating with Damien? Were there any moments that were particularly challenging or enjoyable?
Rankin: We both believe in artistic collaboration - we weren't at odds. It helped that we know each other so well and for so long, so the trust was there. I love Damien's work, and I always have. It works on two levels - on a cerebral level, but also on a gut level. It’s emotive; it provokes that gut reaction. I have always aimed for the same in my work. The appeal is more in his approach, than in a particular aesthetic - although obviously I admire his work on that level too.

We are both artistically generous because we believe in the end result, and understand that you can’t always afford to work in isolation to get the best work out there.

DD: In our latest issue you described fashion as 'shallow'. Can you ever see yourself leaving fashion photography behind for good to work on projects such as this?

What I actually said was that I take the piss out of some of the shallow fashion stuff that I do. I enjoy injecting some humour into something that people in the 'industry' can take so seriously. It’s important to step back and see it for what it is occasionally. Fashion can be shallow, but it’s also really important. I don't condemn it - fashion informs wider social and political trends, and it’s absolutely integral to the way that people express themselves artistically, and also interact creatively and in other ways.

However, I do think that some fashion photography can be very shallow. Fashion is a business, and selling clothes through photography can be a very constricting exercise. I enjoy the artistic freedom that a project like 'Myths' affords me. But I'll never do one thing exclusively - I'll never give up fashion photography for good. I'm always open to experimenting and evolution in any genre of photography. Also, fashion photography can be very seductive - and, as Damien has said, I get to work with beautiful girls, not just dead animals! I'm definitely not complaining.

DD: What do you want people to take from the exhibition/book?

Rankin: This is the kind of question that I hate, because what I always want people to be able to do, is to walk away and make their own judgments. I don't want to be prescriptive about how the work makes people feel. But I do hope that people will consider the importance of narratives and tales in modern society. People used to believe and live by the myths that these creatures grew from – that’s quite incredible. With scientific advances and the subsidence of religious beliefs, we have lost a belief in the fantastical. It’s interesting to question our own cynicism. At least it is for me.

DD: What’s been your worst nightmare?
Rankin: I don't believe in God, but I definitely believe in the devil. There was a period in my life when I used to dream about the Devil on a nightly basis. He used to come into my nightmares in all different forms. It got to the point where I was able to wake myself out of the dreams.