Alive: In the Face of Death

By | Art & Design
Sam and Dan Lloyd © Rankin

Acclaimed British photographer, John Rankin Waddell, 46, known in a professional context as Rankin, has earned himself a solid reputation having shot an array of recognised subjects from Kate Moss to Madonna, Mikhail Gorbachev to the Queen of England.

While his arguably best known images centre upon celebrities or prominent and easily identifiable figures within culture, his newest project, ‘Alive: In The Face of Death’, tackles the more challenging and sensitive topics of terminal illness and morality.

After struggling with the events of his parents’ deaths in 2005, Rankin was inspired by grief to celebrate life in his recent part photography, part documentary project on show in Liverpool this summer. The project documents the personal and intimate stories of individuals who are or have struggled with the prospect of death, depicting each not as a victim but as an inspiration. The focus is thus not upon death but upon the individuals’ appetite for life, their enthusiasm for experiences and their relentless positivity.

Featuring more than 70 photographic images, ‘Alive: In The Face Of Death’ celebrates life and diversity of character through its exploration of individual encounters with mortality and illness, shifting the expected focus from victim to the optimism and strength of the individuals photographed.

The inner warrior: Sandra Barber by Rankin © Rankin

The inner warrior: Sandra Barber by Rankin © Rankin

The taboo subject is powerfully and expressively explored in Rankin’s striking images, encouraging the sitter to examine their personal experiences of mortality and challenge the cultural perception of death as a subject. The challenging images emulate a compelling defiance and determination, the vitality and strength of the sitters certain to evoke unmistakable admiration and inspiration.

Discussions regarding the project and the personal experiences of individuals with terminal illnesses, who have faced or are facing the prospect of mortality and who work with individuals in such circumstances, will be documented by BBC2 for a further inspirational insight into the subject.

In addition to the series of photographs and documentary footage, Rankin has created an online platform, on which volunteers are able to upload their personal accounts and stories, sharing with others their frequently tragic and earnestly exposed experiences.


To find out more about the project, read or contribute personal experiences or preview some of the images in the exhibition, please visit:

Alive: In the Face of Death is at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery from 17th May to 15th September. The exhibition has been documented by BBC Two’s The Culture Show for an episode to be broadcast later in the year and is part of Liverpool’s Look/13 photography festival.


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