Tim Walker is the owner of one of the most instantly recognisable and unique styles in modern fashion photography. And if you aren’t yet up on your fashion photographers, well prepare to meet one of your new favourites. For a vast majority of the world’s creative folk, a love of Tim Walker is pretty much inevitable.
The style I’m referring to, beloved of so many fans of stunning fashion images, features dramatic and often surreal dream-scapes, where childlike imagination meets couture elegance and the impossible is made real. Walker thinks nothing of creating scenes of vintage spitfires flying through a stately home, of macabre skeleton marionettes suspended in fields of flowers, a mermaid trapped in a giant specimen jar, or of dying the coats of Persian cats in shades of pastel for that matter.
His theatrical and romantic images have now graced the pages of Vogue, for whom he first shot at age 25, more than those of any other photographer, as well as regularly featuring in Love and W, those most image-rich and luxury of fashion magazines. That said, Walker is quoted himself as saying, “Clothes essentially can be so boring. To take clothes on people and put them with location is what brings fashion alive… I’m not so motivated by fashion and brands, I’m more interested in who’ll let me do what I want to do. I think that I’ve always used the fashion industry as a mechanism to fund and support my work; and if they let me and they’re happy then that’s fine.” To Walker the world of fashion and couture is just a giant dressing up box, that along with incredible prop-makers, stylists, hair stylists and makeup artists such as regular contributors Sam Bryant, Petros Petrohilos and Val Garland, he uses to bring his dreamlike visions to life.
There is, believe it or not, little trickery in a Tim Walker photograph. Anything you see in the tableaux has at some point existed in real life. Whether that’s down to his incredible prop-house or his willingness to travel to reach the perfect location, be that a desert home in Namibia overtaken with sand dunes, or a dilapidated Sultan’s Palace in India. His talk that I was lucky enough to attend earlier this year at London’s Vogue Festival, in which he told of his recent ten-day editorial shoot with Karen Elson and team in Bhutan, was the stuff of fashion dreams! Needless to say Tim requires his crew to have something of an adventurous spirit to contend with waiting for a landslide to clear up a hill in Bhutan for three hours, 3am starts, 6000-metre mountain hikes to the designated location, sandstorms, freezing temperatures and more in exchange for the perfect image.
In stark contrast to his highly produced set-pieces, Walker is also known for his beautifully simple yet striking portraits, characteristically taken straight on, of the subject sat in a white space at a white table. He is known for his love of uncommon beauties such as Tilda Swinton, Kristen McMenemy and Karen Elson, but also his ability to capture the unique character of any subject he turns his lens to in these shots, a style which has also made its way into his more recent fashion stories, sitting beautifully in amongst the grander fairytale scenes.
With images now in the permanent collections of the V&A Museum and National Portrait Gallery, Walker’s work has surpassed the pages of fashion magazines, has been used in advertising from Mulberry to Lanvin, and referenced in pop culture in music videos from Rihanna to Paramore. “I’ve tried to perpetuate the idea of something that’s more unusually beautiful,” he says, and in doing so has allowed that unusual beauty to be embraced and celebrated as it truly deserves.
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