Tim Walker: Shifting from fashion to art
Before Tim Walker (1970) would first be featured in a museum in 2008, by the London-based Design Museum (which coincided with the publication of ‘Pictures’), the photographer had an interesting career in fashion photography. It all started in the library of Condé Nast in London. Prior to going to University, it was here that Walker worked on the Cecil Beaton archive as part of a work experience year. Along with work of Maurice Sendak and the films of Powell and Pressburger, Beaton’s work still is an important inspirator for Walker.
After his year in the Condé Nast Library and getting his degree in Photography at the Exeter College of Art in 1994, Walker eventually worked as the full-time assistant to the renowned photographer Richard Avedon. After Walker worked with Avedon in New York City, he moved back to England, where he would take portraits for British newspapers. Aged 25, Walker landed his first fashion assignment for Vogue, which would be the first of many fashion photo shoots.
Although The White Review recently wrote that Walker is still one of the leading fashion photographers, Walker said in the interview with them that he is ‘not so motivated by fashion and brands. I’m more interested in who’ll let me do what I want to do. I think that I’ve always used the fashion industry as a mechanism to fund and support my work; and if they let me and they’re happy then that’s fine.’
‘ I’m more interested in who’ll let me do what I want to do. ’
‘ I’m more interested in who’ll let me do what I want to do. ’
His disinterest in fashion makes Walker a rather atypical fashion photographer. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, his work was once described as ‘theatrical and fantastical, bordering on surrealist and incredibly romantic’. On the juxtaposition of being a fashion photographer who isn’t interested in clothes, Walker said in the same interview: “I was never interested in fashion when I started out. I was interested in people. Fashion photography allowed me to explore dreams and fantasy, and that’s what I love about it.’
If you look at Walker’s work as art, instead of fashion photography, it fits the ‘art’ label that museums have given him in recent years. His dreamy photographs have been exhibited in many museums, from the British Bowes Museum, to the Victoria & Albert Museum (where his work is part of their permanent collection), to the more recent exhibition of his work in the Dutch Noordbrabants Museum. In the latter, his series The Garden of Earthly Delights was on display, which is inspired by the fantastical work of medieval Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch.
It’s the anti-glamourous, ominous tone in his more recent work that moves Walker further and further away from fashion photography as a whole. MENDO’s Daan says that ‘Tim Walker is like the Tim Burton of the photography world. Both Tims love the dark side of fairytales. He’s a classic editorial photographer, who has shaped the way Vogue-style fashion photographs looked in the nineties. He comes from a time that Steven Meisel, Steven Klein and Mario Testino were some of the most sought-after photographers in the fashion world.’
Daan would say that Walker’s work is comparable with the photography of fashion photographers like Mario Testino and David Lachapelle, but there are some major differences. Daan: ‘When people walk into our Berenstraat store and they’re looking for something less glamorous than David Lachapelle, but more flamboyant than Mario Testino, I recommend them the books of Tim Walker. Walker’s books are also a dashing, but without the sexual focus and the urge to shock that Lachapelle has.’
In Walker’s newest publication, the dazzlingly designed and lavishly produced ‘Shoot for the Moon’, a selection of spectacular photographs of some of well-known names in fashion and contemporary culture can be found. It’s also in these photographs that plays with the lightness of fairytales and the darkness of magical worlds. Because like Walker said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times: ‘A fairy tale without darkness won’t resonate emotionally. [The tales of Hans Christian Andersen] get the balance of light and darkness right, and isn’t that the point.
‘ A fairy tale without darkness won’t resonate emotionally ’
It’s the dark side of fairytales that still defines Walker’s recent work. ‘Tim’s love of fashion is all about telling a story, so when he introduced the notion of fairy tales, I began to explore Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ Art Director Ruth Ansel told The Telegraph, ‘Once I saw how the fanciful shapes created pace through the book, we were off.’
In Walker’s ‘palace of dreams’, which is what he calls the London-based Victoria & Albert Museum, visitors can experience the extraordinary creative process of the photographer’s mind, through his pictures, films, photographic sets, and special installations – including ten new series of photographs influenced by the museum’s collections.
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