Tim Walker: a fashion fairytale
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He shot his first Vogue story when he was 25, and has photographed everyone from Tilda Swinton to Kate Moss. But Tim Walker has never been interested in clothes. We talk to him about making his dreams reality
Fashion photographers can be terrible bosses – demanding, capricious, unreasonable. Tim Walker, whose work has for the past decade graced the pages of almost any glossy magazine you care to name, is nothing like that. But one look at his fantastical, ambitious photographs tells you that working for a man who thinks nothing of creating a dinner party suspended in a wood, or of crashing a giant doll through a forest, or of faking a snowdrift inside a stately home, could be a challenge. “I think an intense enthusiasm to create a vision you have seen in your head makes you ignore certain obstacles,” is how the softly-spoken 42-year-old puts it.
Walker has a very specific take on fashion photography. His work is theatrical, bordering on surrealist and – to state the obvious about a man who once dyed Persian cats pastel – incredibly romantic. Every fantastical scene is created with props, and all the meticulously crafted tableaux existed at some point. Walker strives to create his pictures within what he calls “the parameters of the impossible” – something has to be physically, rather than digitally, possible for the picture to register with the viewer. “Otherwise the ring of truth goes flat.”
All his photographs are instantly recognisable as Tim Walker pictures, whether they feature fashion models or not. He sees that as a positive: “If you are fortunate enough to acquire a style that is recognisable, you end up taking the same 10 pictures for the rest of your life, even if you think it’s a new picture.”
Walker’s otherworldly work is being celebrated in an exhibition opening today at the Bowes Museum in County Durham. Tim Walker: Dreamscapes is curated by former Turner prize judge Greville Worthington, who believes the photographer’s work can be read as “more than fashion”. The exhibition shows Walker’s influences from British surrealism and places him as an artist with roots in the traditions of English landscape painting. For Walker, the art tag is a welcome change: “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.”
His career in fashion started early. As a 19-year-old intern at Vogue, he established its Cecil Beaton archive before studying art and photography at Exeter Art College. After graduating, he worked as a photo assistant in London before moving to New York to assist Richard Avedon. He shot his first Vogue story at 25, and since then has contributed to every leading glossy magazine. In doing so he has inspired multiple imitators and changed the course of fashion photography. His shoot at the 1998 Glastonbury festival, featuring campfires, supermodels, foil capes and muddy fields, is one of the most referenced in recent fashion history.
Despite contributing so much to the fashion conversation, Walker himself is particularly unfashiony. He dresses according to colour – head-to-toe blue or green – rather than in labels. His one accessory is a pencil poking, carpenter-like, from behind his ear. “I’m not motivated by the wheel of fashion and commerce,” he says. For Walker, fashion is simply a giant dressing-up box.
His current work is less about lush tableaux and more about stripped-back portraits. The turning point came about four years ago, when a typically ambitious idea of painting the exterior of a cottage Post-it yellow to make it look as if it had been dipped in wax came unstuck thanks to three days of torrential rain. Rivers of yellow paint streaming down a Sussex village made Walker nostalgic for the relatively stress-free environment of the studio.
Not that Walker’s portraits are simple. He can’t quite bring himself to turn up to a shoot without a suitcase of props, but he wants the finished image to be less a quest to print out a vision he has in his head and more a collaboration with his subject. “That’s why I love working with Tilda [Swinton] so much,” he says.
Swinton is one of Walker’s most photographed subjects. He regularly shoots a small group of women who he believes have a unique beauty. He cites the androgyny of Stella Tennant, the strangeness of Kristen McMenamy and the challenging looks of Karen Elson – once considered ugly, now recognised by the fashion industry as a great beauty.
Swinton is apparently a photographer’s dream. “She is so involved in the pictures. She is vitally present and so involved in the characters that we are exploring – whether that’s as Bowie’s Thin White Duke mixed with the witch in The Wizard Of Oz or a character from a surrealist painting.” She will, he says, “go there”.
So who else is a joy to photograph? “Kate Moss. She has such a joy for life. You have never met anyone with such a sense of living 100% in the moment. And the camera loves the moment. Even though you might have spent ages in pre-production, it’s still about a precise moment.”
• Tim Walker: Dreamscapes is at the Bowes Museum, Castle Barnard, County Durham until 1 September; go to thebowesmuseum.org.uk for details.
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/2013/may/24/tim-walker-photographer-fashion-art Imogen Fox Thanks for reading Jay
Posted on May 24, 2013, in Photography News and tagged Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk, arts, guardian, IFTTT, Imogen Fox, info, information, journal, news, newspaper, photo, photography. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.