Tim Walker is a British fashion photographer known primarily for his visually engaging work with Vogue, Love and W Magazine. Walker is particularly acclaimed for his extravagant staging and romantic daydream motifs. He has shot a wide cast of visually striking people globally including Lily Cole in Whadwan Gujarat, India (2005), The Huli Tribe, Papua New Guinea (2007), Alexander McQueen London (2009), Tilda Swinton in Edward James Daydream Las Pozas Mexico (2012) and Karen Elson and Atlas the Lion on a Velvet podium at Shotover House (2013). Walker is one of the most influential fashion photographers in the industry today known for creating “magical moments of uncontrollable beauty.”
Susanna Brown, V&A Curator of Photography introduced Tim Walker at the ‘in Conversation’ event with fashion muse Amanda Harlech and actress Gwendoline Christie at the Museum on Friday 19 September. Walker discussed the diversity of his profession; emphasizing how “every shoot is different” and explaining how “photographers’ intentions change” and the essential need for them to “react to the moment” and “let go of pre-conceived ideas.”
Walker gained success early after graduating from Exeter in 1994 and he was just 25 when he had his first fashion shoot for Vogue. By 1998 he had his work in the V&A permanent collection. Walker’s publication Storyteller (2012) acknowledges his unique influence on contemporary fashion photography. Most recently his work has been included in the international display at the V&A in 2014, Selling Dreams: One Hundred Years of Fashion Photography which showcased the work of masters such as Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and contemporary visionaries including Steve Klein, Corinne Day, Rankin and Miles Alridge.
Through Walker’s conversation with Harlech and Christie the audience was transported through a time capsule of iconic images, with Walker discussing the relevance of location and the importance of context as he described each shot in turn. Below are details of some of those images discussed.
Kate Moss & Marlon Richards, Haughton Hall Norfolk 2012, Love Magazine, Balmain
The house had originally been the Sassoon family home and there was a portrait of Sybil Sassoon painted by John Singer Sargent. Walker described how details like these engage those involved with the shoot and transform the setting; “the house became a box of romance for Kate Moss.” Walker explained that before the shoot he had been researching and drawing inspiration from the work of John Cocteau, using the models to create a “Beauty and the Beast” narrative.
Kate Moss reclining in Haughton Hall, Love Magazine, Givenchy
Walker explained the importance of being hypersensitive to the moment. Walker went onto make the comparison, acknowledging that photography is like the weather as light is uncontrollable. Although Walker spends a lot of time planning in advance, he explained that “you need to have those plans to defy those plans” and sometimes “you [just] need to get on with it” Walker explained that in order to progress one has to “fall in love with the mood” and states that emotion can be found in the quality of light.
Lily Cole & spiral staircase, Whadwan, Gujarat, India 2005, Stella McCartney, British Vogue
Stella McCartney based the design of the dress on the blue wallpaper, keeping the fabric in harmony with staircase.
Lily Cole in earthquake damaged room, Whadwan, Gujarat, India 2005, British Vogue, Prada
Walker had originally seen the image in a tour book, but despite the earthquake damage he was “floored by the beauty of it.”
A homage to Cecil Beaton’s image of debutantes wearing Charles James Couture, London 2012, American Vogue
Walker’s homage can best be described as “a love letter to Beaton with paper”. Through the use of the stark white it can be thought of as “the ghost of Charles James” with its magic, mystery and other worldliness. The “naive” use of materials also gave it a contemporary feel with contemporary inspired dresses made out of paper.
Kristen McMenamy floating in a tank, Eglingham Hall, UK 2013, W Magazine, Vionnet
Walker explained that often the photographers and collaborators would build their own narrative based on the model or location of the shoot. As Kristen McMenamy’s boyfriend is a famous art collector, the shoot was based on McMenamy being a piece of art. Her make-up was done in a pre-Raphaelite way and they played with her power in front of the camera.
Karen Elson and Atlas the Lion on a velvet podium, Shotover House, Oxford UK 2013, Love Magazine, D&G
Walker felt this image embodied the power and beauty of the animal.
By way of summation, through the event Walker revealed his perspective that the point of fashion photography is dreaming and transformation rather than selling. His diverse ways of working show that he is a photographer not to be forgotten in the 21st century.
Words by: Grace Radford
Image: © Tim Walker