In September 2019, a new V&A exhibition invites visitors to experience the fantastical imagination of Tim Walker, one of the world’s most inventive photographers. Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is the largest exhibition of Walker’s pictures to date. It celebrates his extraordinary contribution to image-making over the last 25 years and the inspirational role that the V&A’s collection plays in his creative process. Here’s nine things you need to know:
- At the heart of the exhibition are 10 major new photographic projects, directly influenced by treasures in the V&A’s vast collection. In preparation for the exhibition, Walker visited object stores and conservation studios, meeting many of the museum’s curators, conservators and technicians. He scoured 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.
- Along the way, 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. These and many other rare artefacts have inspired Walker’s monumental new photographs, and feature in the exhibition designed by leading British creative, Shona Heath.
- Designed by leading creative director and Walker’s long-term collaborator Shona Heath, the exhibition showcases over 300 items, encompassing photographs and the V&A objects that inspired them, short films, photographic sets and props, scrapbooks and sketches. Heath’s spectacular design guides visitors on a journey through Walker’s enchanted world.
- Text written by Walker adds personal insight and celebrates the talents of the many collaborators who help bring his ideas to life, including stylists and creatives Katy England, Amanda Harlech and Jerry Stafford, and hair and make-up artists Malcolm Edwards, Julien d’Ys, isshehungry and Sam Bryant, among others.
- The exhibition begins with 100 pictures from Walker’s previous projects and extracts from his Super 8 films, displayed in a sleek, white space. Walker first came to prominence in the 1990s with his unique approach to visual storytelling, blurring fantasy and reality to create pictures that can be surreal, lavish, humorous and touching.
- These images are populated by some of the biggest names in fashion: models including Edie Campbell, Lily Cole, Karen Elson and Stella Tennant and designers including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons and Rick Owens. Walker’s reference points are disparate, ranging from fairy tales to The Beatles’ lyrics, yet his photographs share a sensibility that is unmistakably his own. He avoids Photoshop and other virtual tools in favour of beautifully crafted physical sets and awe-inspiring locations, from Myanmar to Japan and Mexico.
- The first room of the exhibition displays these inventive fashion stories alongside portraits of luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough, Peter Blake and David Hockney, and a constellation of performers including Riz Ahmed, Cate Blanchett, Björk, Timothée Chalamet, Beth Ditto, Daniel Day-Lewis, Claire Foy, Saoirse Ronan and Solange Knowles. One wall is devoted to the photographer’s muses, including performers Tilda Swinton and Lindsay Kemp, models Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss, and the artist Grayson Perry. The first part of the exhibition concludes with five projects devoted to the nude.
- Towards the end of the exhibition, visitors enter a pastel-hued room reminiscent of a grand country house. A film projection flickers within a vast fireplace and the walls are hung with multiple portraits inspired by Edith Sitwell’s clothing and jewellery in the V&A’s collection. This shoot with Tilda Swinton, herself a distant relative of Sitwell, took place at the family’s manor house, Renishaw Hall. As well as recognisable faces such as Swinton and Karen Elson, Walker’s new pictures are populated by a diverse cast of up-and-coming performers and models, celebrating beauty in all its forms.
- Beyond the exhibition, several of Walker’s film installations appear throughout the museum’s permanent galleries, including the Tapestries Gallery and Norfolk House Music Room. The Modern Media Gallery in the V&A’s Photography Centre will screen his newest film, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a ballet performed by dancers from the Michael Clark Company in costumes inspired by paper dolls in the V&A Museum of Childhood. Walker rewrote the original Hans Christian Andersen tale to create a moving gay love story, narrated by actress Gwendoline Christie.