Shooting the Entrepreneurs

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Rankin. If you haven’t heard of him, chances are you’ve seen his work, including infamous photographic portraits of Jay-Z, U2, Daniel Craig, Britney Spears, Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell, Queen Elizabeth II, Damien Hirst, Tony Blair and Robert Matthams. Intimate, irreverent, he makes his subjects almost familiar…hang on, Robert who?

Bompass & Parr photographed by Rankin for the BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur competitionRobert Matthams. Never heard of him? There’s a good chance you might not know the name but if the clever people at BT have anything to do with it you will certainly have heard about what he does. Matthams is the overall victor of the BT Essence of the Entrepreneur competition, the winners of which, in a PR coup, were recently announced in London. Matthams is the founder of Shiply, a rather ingenious enterprise capitalising on the lorries that run empty on their return journeys to the UK’s roads and brokering them out to carry freight. Now, why didn’t I think of that? Come to think of it, all of the winners have that in common; they’ve thought of the thing we haven’t. And then gone one step further and done something about it.

Ever longed for a device that could find your lost child in a shopping mall? Sara Murray’s covered that with Buddi. Ever wondered what happens to those huge canvas advertising banners when the five-minute-wonder they’re plugging has disappeared from memory? Paul Gilbraith makes bags out of them. Ever wanted to order medicines online legitimately? Mitesh Soma’s your man and Chemist Direct even processes prescriptions.

And Rankin? Well, there’s the clever coup bit. Entrepreneurial competitions aren’t new, certainly – in the business world there are several accolades placed on the shoulders of emerging businessmen and, occasionally, we get to read about them in the papers – but what’s unique about this one is that as a venture itself it steps into its own entrepreneurial arena. With a spoonful of clever self-promotion, BT’s competition pulled in the world-renowned portrait photographer to take shots of each of the twenty finalists and then exhibit the results, launching them to an enthusiastic public and championed by the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur, Peter Jones.

James White photographed by Rankin for the BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur competitionAs exhibitions go it’s a curious oxymoron of art and business. You wouldn’t really think they mix and, truth be told, since you don’t recognise any of the subjects it’s hard to appreciate quite why these subjects would make interesting subjects. Then again, portrait photography’s not necessarily about snapping celebrities. Business people are as good a subject as any, really, particularly if like Rankin you’ve managed to avoid them looking like a corporate headshot. To do so Rankin’s managed to summarise each finalist’s business in the image both simply, with a besuited Daniel Ox (winner of the ‘Young Entrepreneur’ category with Fruit for the Office) clutching a wheelbarrow, and spectacularly, as jelly sculptors Bombass and Parr look gleefully out at you with jelly moulds unceremoniously slapped on their heads.

Who needs celebrities – it’s the subject that counts.

The BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur exhibition is currently running at the gallery@oxo, Bargehouse Street on London’s South Bank until 28th February. Open daily from 11am-6pm, admission is free. More information can be found at www.essenceoftheentrepreneur.co.uk.

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