The Masks We Face: Rachell Smith distinguishes herself from the Rankin file

7 Oct

Left to right: photographer Rachell Smith, one of the masked models, and make-up artist Khandiz Joni

It’s great when a Big Idea hits you. A Big Idea is simple, so simple that as soon as you say it, people respond warmly. The best film pitches are like that: simple ideas, with heart as well as a twist.

The Masks We Face, an art/photography exhibition on a massive street wall in Shoreditch, is a Big Idea. It consists of giant portraits of 24 people, each of whom is shot with a mask painted on their faces – including new eyes drawn over closed lids, sometimes manga-sized, which looks freakishly real and yet not quite.

At the launch this weekend, photographer Rachell Smith explained how photography is about trying to get to the “real you” – her last exhibition, Beauty Portraits Un-Touched, was of models without any retouching or post-production; now she is using make-up to recognise the fact that we all adopt a mask, a public persona, to make us look better than we really are.

Rachell’s collaborator, make-up artist Khandiz Joni, adds: “Can I let you in on a secret? The masks I drew are their faces.” I look baffled, so she adds: “We asked them to send in pictures of themselves; I based the masks on the expressions they wore in these pictures, then painted them on for Rachell to shoot.”

The results, as you can see for yourself if you walk down Great Eastern Street before October 11, are stunning.


Rachell, incidentally, worked as Rankin’s assistant for three years before striking out on her own. Rankin used to shoot our Time Out covers for mate’s rates in the ‘90s when he was starting out (I particularly remember his North v South London dual covers; Kylie in boxing gear, with just ten minutes for the shoot; and saving our arses on the night before we went to press with an improvised cover shoot for London Fashion Week — no clothes, so the model was draped in a Union Jack tea towel).

ImageRachell, in turn, has done some fantastic fashion and portrait shoots for The Book, the student glossy I’ve been helping out on till recently. Having dropped in on one of Rachell’s cover shoots (right), I can honestly say she is AMAZING. Huge positive energy, great at putting subjects at their ease, overflowing with ideas, but also a dedicated perfectionist who gets everything just so.

Remember the name.

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