Tim Walker: Story Teller

Pushing the boundaries of fashion photography

By Finola  Austin

Tim Walker’s work challenges ideas about what fashion photography can and should be, pushing boundaries and raising questions beyond the scope of your average glossy spread, suggesting narrative while maintaining an aesthetic appreciation for the clothes featured. 
What I loved most about the exhibition at Somerset House was the way in which it revealed the playful side of fashion – the bizarre, the ridiculous. Walker likes to mess with perspective, but his pictures don’t rely on technological trickery, fake lights and Photoshop. Pieces of his complex sets were also on display - oversized dolls, enlarged insects and model spitfires – but the ways in which he tinkers with reality can be much more subtle. He brings sand inside or creates clouds of pink smoke, blending in with a backdrop of flowers. His models pose by traffic signs. You look once and accept the plausibility of often beautiful photographs, but a slight sense of the uncanny and unreal is what draws you back again.

Image I: Giant doll kicks Lindsey Wixson
Fashion: Louis Vuitton
Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2011

Lots of the photographs are rich in detail, prompting a sort of childlike wonder but with a darker edge. Think Alice trapped on the other side of the looking glass, Humpty Dumpty toppled from his perch. Yet other images are much starker, with less emphasis on the pretty, especially when his models’ faces are the subject of a shoot. The eyes of the famous stare at you from around the room, in remarkable poses, dressed in striking clothes, emphasising this same clash of the familiar and the unfamiliar. 

Image II: Tilda Swinton in exaggerated collar
Fashion: Giorgio Armani
Reykjavik, Iceland, 2011

Image III: Stella Tennant and pink power cloud
Fashion: Peter Jenson
Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2007
Walker’s work has graced the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair and many others, but it was also very much at home in an exhibition (as the inclusion of his photographs in permanent exhibits at the V&A and National Portrait Gallery would suggest). Wondering through a gallery though you are more inclined to stop and think and to appreciate the artistry involved  - a lesson I’ve learned for the next time I flick through a fashion magazine.
Tim Walker: Story Teller is on display at Somerset House until 27th January; Admission Free. Link

Finola Austin
Follow Finola on Twitter @alonif01 

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