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The Wonderful Mr. Walker

February 06, 2020

The Victoria & Albert Museum holds the most important photographic collection in the world. This season, it focuses its curatorial lens on the extraordinary work of British photographer Tim Walker in the largest exhibition ever to survey his 25-year career. It also includes over 150 new photographs inspired by the V&A archives, from fashion to rare objects, for a dialogue on par with the ever-imaginative Mr. Walker.

A photograph of Tim Walker always goes somewhere – to the next level, to a fantasy world, to asserting a rare degree of refinement that whispers his experience, once upon a time, of working as a young assistant in New York under legend Richard Avedon.

For decades, his work has appeared regularly on the covers of international Vogue editions, W magazine and many other magazines at the forefront of fashion and culture. Yet the models in his fashion shoots, including long-time muse Tilda Swinton, are transformed into veritable personas in imaginative scenarios. He prefers to elaborate his sets to perfection instead of working heavily in Photoshop, for example, leaving a unique texture and touch of reality to his otherwise often otherworldly images. A collection of these photographs, moving image projects and portraits open the exhibition; it then leads to ten defined spaces, rich with colour, texture and sound, each showcasing the new monumental photographic projects of Walker inspired by the V&A archives.
Masterminded by leading British creative, Shona Heath, each space invites visitors to feel as if they are stepping directly into the photographs themselves by playing with height and elaborate props.

Model face painted with gold glitter in London
Radhika Nair, Pershore, Worcester, 2018. Tim Walker Studio
Sculpture shadow of a model dressed in black in London
'Duckie Thot, Aubrey’s shadow', London, 2017. Tim Walker Studio

One gallery, called Illuminations, immerses visitors in a burnt-out cathedral cloister, in which sixteenth-century stained glass panels and an illuminated manuscript from the 1470s, made for the Duchess of Brittany, inspires a series of photographs featuring Grace Jones. Another, Pen and Ink, takes as  inspiration the provocative illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley from the 1890s. A green velvet-clad room displays the artist’s best-known works, leading into a stark white photographic studio filled with photographs of Walker’s witty take on Beardsley’s masterpieces. In preparation for the exhibition, Walker visited object stores and conservation studios, scouring the V&A’s 145 public galleries, scaled the roof of the 12-acre South Kensington site, and explored the labyrinth of Victorian passages below ground level. He encountered luminous stained-glass windows, vivid Indian miniature paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations, golden shoes, and a 50-metre-long photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry, the largest photograph in the museum’s collection.

“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,” explains 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 over the past three years has pushed me into new territories, which is very exciting, and I’m at a stage in my life where I feel brave enough to do that.” Editor of W magazine, Stefano Tonchi, once called Tim Walker the “last romantic”. Now is the chance to see a lover of beauty truly in his element.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things
Through 8 March 2020
Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL
T. + 44 20 7942 2000

© Yaffa Assouline for Collect magazine N°26

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