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Chad Rankin, Master of the Surreal

Chad Rankin’s work first caught my eye in one of  his earliest posts on “Why Children Cross the Road.”  The image, of a child wandering amidst three enormous rooster heads, a giant cracked egg and a clock in a vast desert, showed mystery, imagination and humor as well as brilliant technical editing. Since then, I have always looked forward to visiting Chad’s surreal landscapes of statues, eggs, heads, clocks, light bulbs and animals.  From floating eggshells to marble heads attached to zebra bodies, Chad’s work never fails to delight and surprise me.  I have always been curious of how Chad comes up with his ideas and what makes him tick. It has been a pleasure to chat with one of the most distinct voices in mobile photography.

M:  Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background? What do you do when you are not creating mobile masterpieces?

C:  Being a husband and father of three inspiring children I have been called many names,  but the one given to me is Chad. I currently call Northern California my home. After spending my childhood as a Nomad (moving from one Military Base to another) it’s nice to be rooted in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

I currently consider myself an iPhone art enthusiast with a surreal twist. I manage a local pizza restaurant and enjoy spending time with my wife @mysticmermaid and our three children. I enjoy cooking and being outdoors where I find inspiration in my daily journeys.

Where Is my Mind?

M:  How did you get started creating mobile art?

C:  Like most of us I got my start by using a little app called Instagram.  I was first drawn to the thought of using an iPhone, or in my case my iPod,  as a camera.  A friend of mine from High School was posting these most impressive shots using only his iPhone and the Hipstamatic app.  I was hooked on the idea of Lofi photography.

M:  How did your style evolve?

C:  I am very fond of Salvador Dalí. When I first started using my iPod most of my shots where of landscapes, clouds and toys. As I stayed on Instagram I started finding other images that were highly apped and they were very impressive.  As I built my app collection and found some great iPhone artist like @earlybirdninja , @kaphinga, @markgoblue and @mindfax , I made it my quest to push the pixels and make images that had that Daliesque flair.

M:  Do you have a traditional photography or art background?

C:  I have always been very fond of art since I was a young child. As for photography I have taken classes in High School and College, but my true passion has always been in Painting and Drawing. I have a degree in fine arts with a focus on Painting and Drawing.

The Time it Takes to Fry an Egg

M:  Do you still paint or draw with traditional media, or are you working more with your iPod these days?

The iPod has been my savior of the creative process.  The ability to create unique and thought provoking images without waiting for the paint to dry has really increased my ability to create.  Being a traditional artist, I pride myself in using only images that I have taken with my iPod.  While tempting, I stay away from royalty free images.   However, I do miss the smell of the oils and turpentine, just as one would miss the needle scratches on the vinyl.   I would like to paint and draw more, but I’m horrible at time management.

M:  How has your painting influenced your mobile photography, and vice versa?  Are you attracted to the same themes and styles in both media? Is your painting style similar to your apping style? Are there things that you have learned in your mobile work that you have been able to bring back to painting and drawing?

C:  Art has always played a part in my life.  The ability to be creative artistically with a digital device has been liberating.  Due to the high demand I have at work sometimes it’s hard for me to balance time to paint or draw.

I find that my initial thought of using my iPod creations as a digital sketch book has developed into more than I imagined a year ago.  I do try to create images that would be something I would like to paint or draw.  I have always been drawn to the Surreal since my introduction to Dalí.  My traditional art is much like my digital edits with the inclusion of a mixed media approach.  I like to use my medium in a non traditional manner.

I have recently had some new ideas to combine my digital edits with traditional media that may manifest within the year.  So I do see myself bringing what I’ve done on the iPod back to the canvas.

Searching for Yves Tanguy

M:  In addition to Dali, who or what inspires your work?

C:  While Dalí is a great and powerful inspiration, I’ve found that inspiration is what one finds pleasing to their senses.  For me, inspiration strikes me everyday. It could be something my wife or children say or do. It could be the fresh caught trout in the local grocery store.  Inspiration is keeping my eyes open and my mind wandering. I’m a Silent Observer.

M:  Walk us through what goes on in your head as you are developing a piece? Do you plan your shoots with a specific finished piece in mind?  Do you start out with, say, a blank stage or landscape and then arrange the story?  Or, do you start by mixing and arranging objects, which you later put into an environment?

C:  I don’t normally plan shots with a finished piece in mind. However, I do envision a finished piece when I take my images. My ideas come from the people or objects that I come in contact with from my daily journeys.   My process or workflow is more of a meditation or unwinding of the day. When I take a picture I then envision it in a surreal environment. It is a visual journey you may say. The things I come into contact with throughout the day become part of my images like a daydream. I normally edit late in the evening while my children are asleep and listen to the ambient sounds around me. Sometimes music or the crickets serenade late at night.

M:  I have noticed that several motifs appear repeatedly in your work:  clocks, food (eggs, in particular), light bulbs, water, classical statues, telephones.  Do these items have a special significance or meaning for you?

C:  Most of the images I use are from my daily life.  The reason I use some of them so often is for their symbolic representation.  The Egg alone could evoke thoughts of life, death, creation or just plain beauty.  I find that by using symbolism in my art I can covey a thought without saying a word. 


M:  You have started a new series, “Myths of Gods,” which, in addition to  carrying the classical themes in your work to a new level, incorporates more texture and less color.  Can you share a bit about your thinking? How did the series originate, and where you are going with it?

C:  This is the first series I have done with a common theme.  For several years while growing up I was fortunate enough to live in Greece.  My father was stationed there for four years and during that time I found a deep fondness for mythology.

Recently my wife and I visited a local winery that was in mist of a large project of  building a Monastery from 12th century stones quarried in Spain.  After the visit I wanted to pay homage to rebuilding the classics.

What better way than with mythology.  There is nothing more surreal than the myths themselves.

I now have fifteen pieces in the series and plan on getting them printed and maybe do a local show near me.  After that maybe a book.  We will see where the Gods will take me.

Remnants of Creation

M:  It’s interesting that you are using an iPod Touch, which is something I don’t see every day,  Which iPod do you use,  and how do you like it?

C:  I have done all my pieces using a iPod Touch 4g up to recently.  I have just upgraded to the iPod Touch 5g and couldn’t be happier with the quality of the images.

M:  Which came first, the iPod or the photography?  In other words, did you get your iPod Touch for other purposes and then discover that it had a great camera, or did you get your iPod touch mainly for photography?

I got the iPod mainly for music and to keep in touch with family and friends.  I did like the idea of having a camera with me at all times and had no idea on the journey this electrical device was going to take me on.

M:  What are your favorite editing apps?

C:  I have a handful of apps that I use on almost every image I make.  Juxtaposer has set my pixels free. Fluid Fx was also a real game changer as it gave me the opportunity to melt images much like Dalí’s infamous clocks. That is also when I coined the phrase “Pixel Pusher”. I also use Blender, Scratchcam and Blurr Fx very often. Recently I have been using Glaze and Art Rage, which really awakens the painter in my soul.

When Bell Peppers Cast Shadow Blocks of Time Wash Ashore

M:  I always start my iPhone photography workshops with a quick slideshow that shows the range of what is possible on mobile devices.  One of your early pieces — “When Bell Peppers Cast Shadow Blocks of Time Wash Ashore” — is in the mix, and every time this image flashes on the screen, the students make me stop the presentation — “Whoa! Wait! Stop! How did he do that? Did he really do that with an iPhone (or an iPod in your case)?” So, inquiring minds want to know: how did you do those clocks? Are you willing to share some of your secret sauce?  

C:  I’m very honored you would use one of my images as an example.  As for the secret sauce it’s all in the apps.  With a dash of Surreal …

As for the clocks,  they were made by using the 3D photo app.  The original image was shot with Hipstamatic of a illuminated  Clock at night.  That is why I got all the black around it.  Then I simply cut out the box shape with Juxtaposer and arranged them in the composition starting in the background working towards the foreground.

M:  Have you ever exhibited your work?  If not, any plans to do so?

C:  I have been very fortunate to have had my Mobile Art in several iPhone / Mobile Art shows. My first showing was in’s Mobile Art Festival last summer. Then I also had a piece in Pixels Thirdwave juried show that also went to Germany for the Europe portion of the show. Most recently I had a piece in another juried show for Adobe Talking Eye Mobile Art show.

I feel so honored to have these opportunities to show my work and to see the images printed so much larger than the iPod.

I have also been featured in Dan Marcolina’s iPad book Mobile Masters. ( how I wish I could see that)

That is the beauty of this medium,  you can get global exposure and never leave your town. What a Surreal World Mobile Art is.

M:  Chad, thank you for your time, and I can’t wait to see more wonderful work from you.

You can find more of Chads work these places: / Flickr / Instagram / Eye’Em


  1. The Dalí’s influence is quite noticeable in you work, which I really love it! and yet, you have managed to make it very personal and one can notice your own flair to it! fantastic work, really enjoyed the interview!

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments Dilshad. Also thank you for reading mg interview. Honored to have this opportunity

  2. Excellent interview, Marie. Chad, great to see this!!

  3. Nice getting to know a lil bit more about you, Chad.

    • Thank you Mike. Also thanks for your part on this as well. You really help bring this all together.

  4. great interview Marie and Chad