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Alive: Rankin Faces Death – a Culture Show Special

Sat Jul 13, 10.10-11.10pm, BBC2

By Phil Harrison
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‘To take a photograph,’ reckons Susan Sontag, ‘is to participate in another person’s mortality.’ Fashion snapper Rankin found himself confronting this idea in 2006 when he lost both of his parents within a few weeks. Eventually, it inspired his exhibition Alive: In the Face of Death.

This touching and thoughtful film goes behind the scenes to meet the subjects. Along the way, it confirms the exhibition’s title. From climber John to self-styled ‘champagne communist’ Jim; from glamorous Boltonian Lesley to Hungarian holocaust survivor Lily, these characters all leap from screen and portrait alike as people whose proximity to death has lent their lives real intensity.

Wilko Johnson talks of his ‘elation’ after his cancer diagnosis and it seems to be a reaction that’s reasonably common. All in all, surprisingly uplifting viewing – although if you don’t have a lump in your throat after a glimpse of one of Wilko’s farewell gigs, you’re probably part-cyborg.
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