GCSE Lesson Plan:
The art of destruction: Exploring manipulated studio portraits with Rankin and his collaborators
From Penny Prileszky, Queen Elizabeth High School
I wanted to hear the voice inside that the camera doesn't always catch.
This short project formed part of a unit of work entitled Photographic Techniques & Applications with my Year 10 class and took the form of a Controlled Assessment. To celebrate Youth Music's 10th Birthday, celebrated photographer Rankin asked 70 musicians and visual artists to 'destroy' their own portraits. The participants included Joe Strummer, Ian Brown, Marianne Faithfull, Andre 3000, Michael Stipe and Kylie Minogue as well as bands like Pete and the Pirates, The Enemy and The View. For example, Florence Welch drew over her portrait with a metallic pen, inspired by her school days of decorating photos from magazines and Debbie Harry burnt, masked out, painted and stitched-up her picture to make a series of six 'destroyed' portraits. Damien Hirst painted over the portrait of Joe Strummer. Asked about this approach he said,“I tried to keep it about him as a person. I kept looking at the thing on the hand, where it said ‘Joe’. Joe Strummer was a great guy who I met, who was much more of a hero in real life. You don’t meet many people like that,”
I was keen to encourage my students to create proficient studio portraits, considering a range of technical issues, before destroying them, thinking about the particular strategies they might use to add other layers of meaning.
Fashion and celebrity photography can be criticised for being shallow and throwaway. Rankin is often the subject of such criticism and this project was one way for him to respond to his critics with characteristic wit, allowing his images to be destroyed and the sale of the art works benefiting a music charity for young people. There is a great deal of skill and craft in creating seductive images that stand out from the crowd. One of the challenges of this task is to study the techniques used by photographers like Rankin and employ these to generate memorable portraits. Students must then select the most successful images to destroy. In the process of this destruction they must consider which media, techniques or processes will add the most value to the original image, transforming its meanings. This creative journey has the potential to pose certain questions for students about our relationship to the proliferation of images designed to sell us various products:
- Research the ‘RANKIN – DESTROY’ project, and produce some written responses to the work.
- Experiment with a range of post shoot image manipulation techniques, to deconstruct and reconstruct portraits.
- Plan your own photo shoot, and, working in pairs, shoot between 24-36 portraits, following the detailed guidelines set out by your work partner.
- Annotate, select and edit your most successful shots, and present 6 as final pieces.
- Evaluate the success of your work, comparing it with the work of Rankin, and explaining how your ideas developed as a result of studying his work.
- Decide how the work will be exhibited – mounted prints, a book, poster size, etc.