New Rankin exhibition inspired by Scots parents tackles taboo subject of death

Photographer Rankin has told how the loss of his Scottish parents inspired a new exhibition that tackles the taboo topic of death and dying.

TV and radio presenter Gloria Hunniford OBE has presented a plethora of television shows over the course of her career. Gloria lost her daughter, television presenter Caron Keating, in 2004 when she was just 41 years old. Caron had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997.
TV and radio presenter Gloria Hunniford OBE has presented a plethora of television shows over the course of her career. Gloria lost her daughter, television presenter Caron Keating, in 2004 when she was just 41 years old. Caron had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997.

Rankin, who was born in Glasgow and moved to London when he was nine, said the death of both of his parents 15 years ago still affected him.

The exhibition, Lost for Words, tells the story of people who have experienced the loss of a loved one, including celebrities Gloria Hunniford, Ashley Walters, Konnie Huq, Malin Andersson, Divina De Campo, John Stapleton and Jeff Brazier, who have joined the campaign to speak about their experience of dealing with grief.

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The photographer said: “The project has kind of memorialised my parents. It’s showing me the things I wish I’d done. I wish I’d told my Dad things and talked to him so much more. My memory of him is now celebrated.”

Actor Ashley Walters was estranged from his father when, in 2004, he revealed that he was suffering from terminal lung cancer. With just weeks to live, the 45-year-old flew to meet Ashley in Canada, where he was shooting a film. During this time, Ashley recorded footage of his father and spoke to him about his own childhood, an experience that helped Ashley come to terms with their difficult relationship.

Rankin, who says he feels very strongly Scottish despite having spent most of his life south of the Border, recalls his father as a “true Scot”.

“My mother was ill and we were dealing with that and not at all focused on my Dad,” he said. “Then my Dad, in true Scottish thrawn style, goes and has a heart attack. He was like ‘I’m going to get there first, you know’. It’s quite funny when you look back at it.”

Rankin had previously held an exhibition, ALIVE: In the face of Death, which featured images of people who were running out of time. The new project, which also includes a portrait of Scot Nikki Dalgleish, who lost her brother, had been planned before the coronavirus pandemic began.

He said: “It’s been something I’ve always wanted to come back to. Then Covid hit and I felt like ‘does this still work? Is this still relevant’. And the conclusion we came to was that it was more relevant than ever.

"I realised it would be very useful for people. Then what I realised is we are going through a very national grief. We have all heard horror stories about people dying in hospital not seeing their family and having to do all of this so separately. The project is needed even more.

"It’s just been a dream to work on because it’s been like therapy. Interviewing these people and talking about how they deal with grief is incredible.”

He added: “People are really interested in the subject matter, it’s a really bubbling under issue. It is a real opportunity to allow people to discuss this stuff.

"Having been there with my Dad, when my Mum got ill, he just didn’t want to talk about it. No-one wants to talk about it. But once you get past that hurdle of bringing the conversation up, it is easy.”

Barry O’Dwyer, group chief executive of Royal London, which sponsored the exhibition, said: “Thinking about death triggers an insight into grief for many people, and it’s understandable why many of us are reluctant to go there.

“This exhibition with Rankin aims to encourage people to have a conversation around death and dying.”

The public will be able to view the digital exhibition from today on Lostforwords.royallondon.com. Those wanting to view exclusive film cuts and imagery from the exhibition will be able to join a live event on November 25.

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