Extravagant staging and romantic motifs characterise Tim Walker’s unmistakable style. Born in England in 1970, his interest in photography began at the Condé Nast library in London, where he worked with the Cecil Beaton archive for a year in the late 80s. Walker worked as a freelance photographic assistant in London before moving to New York City as a full-time assistant to renowned American photographer Richard Avedon. When Walker returned to England, he initially concentrated on portrait and documentary commissions for newspapers and, aged only 25, he shot his first fashion story for Vogue. He has photographed for the British, Italian and American editions of Vogue ever since, as well as for leading fashion and style titles such as W, i-D, AnOther and LOVE Magazine.
Tim Walker: Wonderful Things celebrates the photographer’s contribution to image-making and the inspirational role that the V&A’s collection plays in his creative process. Designed by leading creative director and Walker’s long-term collaborator Shona Heath, the exhibition showcases over 300 items, encompassing photographs and the V&A objects that inspired them, short films, photographic sets and props, scrapbooks and sketches. Text written by Walker adds personal insight and celebrates the talents of the many collaborators who help bring his ideas to life, including stylists and creatives Katy England, Amanda Harlech and Jerry Stafford, and hair and make-up artists Malcolm Edwards, Julien d’Ys, Hungry and Sam Bryant.
The exhibition begins with 100 pictures from Walker’s previous projects and extracts from his Super 8 films. These images are populated by some of the biggest names in fashion: think models including Edie Campbell, Lily Cole, Karen Elson and Stella Tennant and designers including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons and Rick Owens. Walker’s reference points are disparate, ranging from fairy tales to The Beatles’ lyrics, yet his photographs share a sensibility that is unmistakably his own. He avoids Photoshop and other virtual tools in favour of beautifully crafted physical sets and awe-inspiring locations, from Myanmar to Japan and Mexico.
The first section of the exhibition displays these inventive fashion stories alongside portraits of luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough, Peter Blake and David Hockney, and photographs of performers including Cate Blanchett, Björk, Timothée Chalamet, Beth Ditto, Daniel Day-Lewis, Claire Foy, Saoirse Ronan and Solange Knowles. One wall is devoted to the photographer’s muses, including performers Tilda Swinton and Lindsay Kemp, models Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss, and the artist Grayson Perry. This first part of the exhibition concludes with five projects devoted to the nude.
At the centre of the exhibition are 10 major new photographic projects, directly influenced by treasures in the V&A’s collection. In preparation for the exhibition, Walker visited object stores and conservation studios, meeting many of the museum’s curators, conservators and technicians. He scoured the V&A’s 145 public galleries, scaled the roof of the 12-acre South Kensington site, and explored the labyrinth of Victorian passages below ground level. Along the way, he encountered stained-glass windows, vivid Indian miniature paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations, golden shoes and a 50-metre-long photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry, the largest photograph in the museum’s collection. These and many other rare artefacts have inspired Walker’s monumental new photographs, which are just as much as treat as his most famous works. A must book.
Cromwell Road, South Kensington, SW7 2RL; from 21st September
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