Photographer Tim Walker: Image maker, explorer, dreamer
‘To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt,’ wrote Susan Sontag in her collections of essays ‘On Photography’, 1977. The quote represents Tim Walker‘s world. The British photographer, best known for his work in fashion, creates fairytales and elaborate magical sets, which he then turns on their heads. His photography is a moving image captured in a single moment, as explored in ‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ at the V&A.
On display are his celebrated work in fashion – timeless images from Vogue, W, i-D, AnOther and LOVE – as well as portraits of his muses – actors, artists, models. Walker has also created new pieces inspired by the V&A’s collection. A big fan of the V&A, he once called the museum ‘a place for dreams… the most inspiring place in the world.’ And in preparation, the photographer spent a year exploring the archives, rummaged through the maze of the 145 galleries in search of arts, ideas and objects to inspire this new body of work.
Walker’s staged worlds are grand ideas produced on grand scales and with complex productions. His work is therefore highly collaborative. For the V&A show, he has worked intimately with one of his more regular set designer, Shona Heath, to help form these other worlds – ethereal settings designed to fuel the imagination.
‘Each new shoot is a love letter to an object from the V&A collection, and an attempt to capture my encounter with the sublime,’ says Walker. ‘For me, beauty is everything. I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries that society has created, to enable more varied types of beauty and the wonderful diversity of humanity to be celebrated.’ Preparing for this exhibition, he admits, has pushed him into new territories. ‘It is very exciting, and I’m at a stage in my life where I feel brave enough to do that.’
At a time when anyone with a phone can be photographers, we need talent like Tim Walker to remind us that great image-making isn’t just about having the latest digital technology. Timeless photographs, powerful images from Man Ray and Lee Miller, to Cecil Beaton (whose work inspired Walker) and Richard Avedon (for whom he was an assistant) are about constructing an image, choreographing a stage, narrating a story, then capturing it in a still moment.
Images 1 to 3 (c) V&A Tim Walker: Wonderful Things, image 4 (c) Tim Walker Studio, cover image (c) Spinach