What’s Going On Celluloid?
The world as seen through the lens of British fashion photographer, Tim Walker, is a romantic, enchanting place of fairy-tale characters, pastel coloured cats, and the English countryside. For over a decade, he has transformed the pages of Vogue into a cinema screen for his dream like visions, which prove that fashion photography really is, as the famous American photographer Irving Penn once said, about “selling dreams, not clothes.”
Born in England in 1970, Walker would later move to New York to act as assistant to photographer Richard Avedon. He was twenty-five when he shot his first story for Vogue, and he hasn’t turned back since, with his work still regularly adding some magic to the pages of British, Italian and American editions of the magazine.
Perhaps one of the most extraordinary aspects of Walker’s work, aside from the imaginative concepts themselves, is the way in which they are bought to life – completely without the use of digital manipulation. Walker is unafraid to plant a giant model aeroplane in the middle of a country house, or create a chandelier from ice cream cones.
Indeed, one of Walker’s most famous shoots was also, arguably, one of his most simple to orchestrate, involving no more than a group of colourful Persian cats.
“A lot of people get confused when they see this image,” Walker says. “They think it was done by computer, but we actually took pigment powder, mixed it with talc to get the right ice-cream pastel colours, and brushed it into the cats.”
Apart from the lack of digital enhancement, the pastel cats were also not posed by Walker; “this is just what the cats did,” says the photographer, “and they all pretty much stayed where they were throughout. So it’s quite a naturalistic portrait – apart from the colour.”
Such an unpremeditated, resolutely hand-made approach is unquestionably the element which serves to give Walker’s images their spontaneous, temporary feel. His ability to inject mystery into the most ordinary of environments results in photographs which are always enigmatic, and often a little eerie; one cannot help but look twice at a Tim Walker photograph. Pieces such as the above, which depicts model Lily Cole with a giant watering can, demonstrate the surreal, perhaps slightly unnerving nature of Walker’s imaginary world, in which a country house is transformed into a shadowy, flowerless garden. As with almost all of Walker’s photographs, there is the sense that we have stumbled across some fleeting piece of magic hidden among the everyday.
Walker may be a fashion photographer, but his photographs are not about fashion; they are stories of the way in which one can take beautiful clothes, and turn them into the costumes of an entirely new world, in which the impossible becomes reality, and forgotten fairy-tales are bought to life in couture Technicolor. Walker’s visions are proof that magic can exist in the everyday world; you just have to look for it.