by Annie Ridout
There’s a world where sky blue horses, mounted by rosy-cheeked women in frilly ball gowns, gallop through manor houses. Pastel pink pillars come crashing down next to big yellow fish and graceful pink swans. It exists in the head of fashion photographer Tim Walker.
His current exhibition, Story Teller, will be on display at Somerset House until 27 January 2013. Brimming with magic and mysticism, flying saucers and tea parties – the viewer is immediately whisked away on a candy-coloured journey.
But Walker also intended to introduce a darker, more sinister edge to Story Teller. Over-sized insects with bulging eyes playing the cello, a huge snail sliding over the architrave, a giant doll – in a girly gingham dress – dwarfing the room are supposed to be nightmarish but they are, somehow, comical.
Curated to emulate Walker’s revered fashion shoots, alongside wall-hung photographs there are miniature and massive props – a spitfire fighter plane bursting through the wall, a swan-shaped gondola, creepy puppets in top hats – to walk amongst. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of enormous and diminutive, evil and angelic, thoughtful and spiteful that adds a humorous twist.
The show is a chronicle of his collaborations with, and commissions for, leading fashion magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair, as well as The New Yorker, and has been supported by fashion label Mulberry – for whom he has created the last four seasonal campaigns. It is Walker’s preoccupation with English eccentricity, the ethereal and using fairy-tale narratives to bring depth and originality to fashion shoots that appeals to fashion houses and magazines around the world.
Appearances from Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter and Scarlett Johansson in Walker’s shoots reaffirm his kudos within the art world, as well as a comedic documentary he photographed featuring the five surviving Monty Python stars John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones. He is currently focusing on portraiture – and he does it well; the strong bond he establishes with his subject can be easily detected – but the portraits do not ‘wow’ like the fictional scene set-ups. Though the all-star-cast does help.
Walker’s newly published book, Story Teller, has been produced to go alongside the exhibition and wonderful quotes line the walls – offering insight into his mystical mind. He explains that: ‘Sometimes when you’re taking a picture an extraordinary sense of luck and chance takes over and propels you to make pictures that you couldn’t in your wildest dreams have imagined. This is the magic of photography’. Tim Walker, Story Teller. Pg 112
This revelation is indicative of Walker’s modesty because it is clearly his wild and vivid imagination – and determination to realise these visions of enchanting lands – that instigates these photographic happenings: not luck. Walker aims to make the impossible possible, to make the inanimate animate and the same in reverse. He warps sizes and sharpens colours: there are no rules and nothing is predictable. And this is what makes his work so utterly compelling.
The Somerset House setting is perfect – a grand, quintessentially English former palace – especially with the romance of the open air ice rink and beautifully decorated Christmas tree lighting the courtyard entrance.
Entry is free. Visit the Somerset House website here for further info