To mark 90 years of LEGO, the beloved building blocks brand collaborated with photographer Rankin to create a series of special portraits of 90 LEGO fans aged one to 90, aiming to demonstrate how there’s no age limit on the colourful bricks.
The portrait series features a line-up of LEGO lovers from around the UK, from eight-year-old Boaz and his Grandpa Paul, who says LEGO play has come a long way since he was little, to 11-year-old Elijah who enjoys creating fantasy worlds and 45-year-old Kev Gascoigne of Fairy Bricks, which donates LEGO sets to children’s hospices and hospitals. They feature alongside LEGO designers including Matthew Ashton and Amy Corbett, plus familiar faces including model Ellie Goldstein; Glow Up judge Dominic Skinner and former England footballer and BBC podcast host Peter Crouch. The portraits can be viewed online and will also be displayed in Manchester, Glasgow and various London locations.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Rankin to hear about the huge project.
LBB> Considering your reputation for shooting portraits, you must get a lot of brands coming to do a portrait series sort of brief. So what was it about this one that made you say yes?
Rankin> I did a talk for Mischief, the PR company, and I met the client from LEGO at the talk. She and I got chatting about 90 years of LEGO.
LEGO's probably one of the top five brands in the world. Everyone's had LEGO in their lives. And it's got such a positive educational element to it. It still resonates with everybody. It doesn't matter what age you are, where you're from. There are so few brands that are that've been going for that long and still have that kind of power and that amazing connectivity. Of course we all get into it when we're kids, but if you see a bit of LEGO you can't really help but get involved. The idea of kind of learning through play is for me such an amazing, magical thing.
I wanted to work with them as a brand but I also wanted to come up with the idea. I said I thought they should do the ages of LEGO – 90 people. As usual with these kinds of ideas, people look at me like 'are you crazy?' But because I like any mountain to climb, I was persuasive and thankfully everybody got behind it in the end. And we ended up shooting it.
I've never photographed that many people for one piece of work. And of course I love that because hopefully I've got a bit of a Guinness World Record thing going on. But also, I think just the best ideas are the simplest ones. The ones that almost say it through the execution of the idea – it's for all ages, one to 90.
LBB> Apart from your passion for the brand and the scale of the project, what made this idea exciting to you?
Rankin> What's brilliant is most of the people in the portraits are fans of LEGO. They sent in photographs of their LEGO. They wanted to be part of this. You meet all these LEGO fans, which is really interesting because they're obsessive from very young to very old and in a really lovely way.
It was me as the founder of Rankin Creative but we worked with Mischief in tandem. It was a really great intersection of PR and creative solutions, which I love. I know a lot of agencies have got funny relationships with PR companies, but I absolutely love working with PR companies so much because I think the more people you have at a table the more you connect with the audience. I think PR has this incredible ability to understand audiences in a way that a lot of creative agencies don't. I don't like drip-down concepts, clever ideas that only a few people understand. I like stuff that's got that connectability with the audience. And you can see it in a newspaper or a magazine. It'll end up being in a lot of places because of that. Because it's one big idea people will connect with it. It's my perfect combination of a photographic concept, creative solution and PR.
Also we just really love LEGO. We will be putting it up in our reception office gallery. It's such an enormous piece of work. We probably would've paid LEGO to do it. Don't tell them!
LBB> 90 portraits is such a great body of work. What was the key to tying all of them together?
Rankin> The oversized pieces of LEGO are really cool because a lot of the subjects interacted with them. Essentially, what we were trying to get across is that about generations of play. I get the subjects to play with the camera. People were shot in groups, shot with family members. There was a sense of there being a community to it, even though a lot of the people didn't necessarily know each other. It's like they were all part of the wider LEGO community. There's a LEGO glint in their eyes that's quite easy to capture because they're the super fans of the brand. So it was very easy for us to get them to give us something in the picture.
In a way the pictures were quite easy to take, because they're all from a static position. And you're putting them as groups together in pose, but you're trying to get everyone to be themselves and different. Because of that it's performative, it's just playing with the camera and using the LEGO pieces.
It was really one of those shoots where you walk away and feel like you've achieved something. It's an emotional piece of work that makes people feel positive. And it really embraces what the brand is about.
LBB> How did you keep up the energy?
Rankin> We did two very long shoot days, but it was quite easy because everybody came at it with a really brilliant, positive attitude. There's a great saying in photography, which is 'photograph people that want to be there'. I've got so many stories of people being paid lots and lots of money, but they're just doing it for the money. In this case people were doing it because they love the brand, they loved the idea and they loved the generations interconnecting in a way which they don't get to do in pretty much anything else.
We were going to put it like one to 90 but then it didn't make sense because actually, what's great is having a three year old next to an 80 year old. That's what the brand is about – the generations of play. Actually that's how you experience the brand as well. The initial idea that I came up with for the brand was that. I was like, 'it's got to be one to 90' because that's going to be more effective as a concept. But actually, the bigger concept was the fact that it is intergenerational. You don't separate children from you adults, teenagers from older people. The interconnection is the idea that I came up with but I didn't realise I'd done that until I shot it. So you'll have situations with granddads and their grandchildren. And it's so beautiful to watch. With photography, what's brilliant about something like that is you're given the gift to photograph it. It makes it easy and very special.
LBB> Do you have any kind of moments that will stick in your memory?
Rankin> I really loved this little kid Harry Crawford, who was in that amazing Channel 4 show Lego Masters. He's just a little genius. He started with Duplo and then he moved on to LEGO. He's a magician as well. There are some people you meet in life, where you just know. I remember meeting Jude Law when he was 18 and I was just like, 'fucking hell, this guy is going to be so famous'. One of the things that I was getting the kids especially to do was take the pictures as well. So I was getting him to photograph his brother and his parents. I was really engaging with them, and breaking the fourth wall a bit. That was amazing because Harry is very sophisticated for his age but at the same time, he's got that incredible energy about play and learning. And he's inquisitive, asking me all these questions.
He's literally the poster child of what it is to use LEGO. But he was also just seriously engaging as a person. I was asking him loads of questions about what he wants to do and how he's going to take it on from here.
He's quite grounded. He's kind of taking all this stuff on. And he's got this brilliant attitude towards the fame aspect of it where he wasn't vain. He's getting to the age where kids start to become a bit vain and he wasn't. He just wanted to get it right. He was really interested in taking the pictures. I think I said to him, 'do you want to be a photographer?' He was like, 'No, I just want to know how it works.'
LBB> The other thing I love about this campaign is that I'm looking forward to seeing it on big billboards because good photography can improve public spaces and turn them into galleries. How do you hope people will engage with the work?
Rankin> For me, it's always about making work that people like to engage with. Putting emotion and storytelling into work is why I set up a creative services company. I could see that there was an element that was being lost. And I could see that there was going to be real potential, especially when so many people are making so much content, to be able to do these standout things where the audience, the general public, enjoy it.
When you can encapsulate what a brand's about while celebrating 90 years, while celebrating their fans, while also making everybody smile, and do something that's a bit of a moment – then it becomes a show, it becomes a gallery piece on the streets. And of course what most of us want is that kind of level of connection with an audience. That's why I got into what we all do. And that's why I'm excited by this because I think it does it.
The other thing is that I got into this as a photographer when I was a kid. I was 20 when I picked up the camera for the first time. And if you told me I was going to be here in 30 years, I'd have gone 'no way'. I'm very privileged. My parents used to call people that make what we make 'they'. And I like the fact that I've still got a bit of that running through me. I still kind of marvel at the fact that what I get to do is photograph 90 people who are massive LEGO fans, because I came up with an idea, because someone said it's the 90th anniversary. There's something timeless about that. There's certain brands when you work with them and you're part of history. So I love that.
LBB> I wanted to ask you how this fits into broader trends within creativity, but maybe if it’s about timelessness, it doesn’t play into any trends.
Rankin> There's no trend about it. I'm not a big fan of the trends. There's a lot of jumping on bandwagons in advertising at the moment. And working for a brand like this allows you to elevate and not worry about all that is great. Of course I want my pictures to be modern and have connectivity because that's what I do. But weirdly you could probably go back to the '50s or '60s and do this campaign and it would still have the same resonance because it's intergenerational. That's extraordinary.
This is really not fashionable at all and very off-trend. But we've been selling youth, teenage aesthetics for so long. And we're talking about diversity and stuff, but people really don't want to talk about diversity in age. I've got a lot of interest in that because I think generationally, there's a lot of gaps at the moment and people are misunderstanding each other. And I think what's great is that LEGO can bridge those types of gaps really easily.
What's really interesting is the things that are intergenerational are always better than if it's one group of 32 year olds. And that's nothing against 32 year olds. It's just that more choices at the table is really important, especially now. So for me, this transcends trends. And that, in a lot of ways, is really important because we need to build bridges between each other at the moment. LEGO is the perfect brand to do that for me.