The Fashion Photographer Reflects On the Secrets and Lies in His Imaginary World
From a flying saucer invading a foxhunt to floating dinner tables, photographer Tim Walker’s fantastical images tantalizingly blur the line between fiction and reality. For over 15 years, the east London-based Walker has contributed his singular brand of fashion photography to British, Italian and American Vogue, as well as Vanity Fair, W and The New Yorker. Formerly an assistant to Richard Avedon, Walker draws inspiration from children’s books, films and illustrations, amassing them in scrapbooks which he uses to create his “imaginary places that never existed.” “I started using the camera as a way of capturing a mood I wanted to express,” he says. “To me, a photograph is far stronger when something is suggested rather than defined. If you define it there is nowhere for your imagination to go.” Ahead of a forthcoming exhibition at London’s Somerset House supported by Mulberry, and an accompanying book out next week from Thames & Hudson, Walker talks to NOWNESS about chance encounters on set and how the camera often fibs.
Your work often involves creating huge sets and a cast of models. Is it about setting up everything and then being open to chance?
Absolutely. It’s fundamental to what I do. A lot of gestures and expressions happen when the models experience something during a shoot—the wind blowing through the set or something falling over, for example. They need something to react to. A “mistake” can liberate a photograph and prevent it from looking over-choreographed.
Many of your images are surreal in some ways—is this a conscious decision?
The surreal in my work is instinctive, I think. I’ve always veered towards fantasy, dreams and magic. For me photography is a window to another world. I love things that are somewhere they shouldn’t be, for example the outside inside and vice versa. I find the notion “the camera never lies” really interesting because the place where it lies more than anywhere else is in fashion.
In 2010 you made a short film called The Lost Explorer. Why did you want to work with moving image?
I’ve always found film inspiring. As a photographer you always aspire to achieve something extra that you can’t achieve with still images. I decided to make a film out of curiosity and I naively thought I could draw on my knowledge of photography, but you can’t; they’re two very different things. I would love to make another film. I’m working on some ideas now but it’s an enormous process.
Tim Walker: Story Teller opens at Somerset House, London on October 18.