Tim Walker on fairy tales, first photographs and cardboard props.
Tim Walker needs no introduction – if you’re not already in love with his dreamlike imagery you will be after reading the rest of this post. Every fashion or photography student have had his images ripped from magazines and pasted in their sketchbooks at some point, myself included, so I was honoured when Mulberry invited me along to the opening of his latest exhibition at Somerset House – Story Teller.
Tim’s photographs transport you into another world, full of fairy tales and larger than life props that would usually only make an appearance in your wildest dreams. This is what makes his work so alluring – that he can bring these dreams to life on the pages of our favourite magazines, and more importantly, convey such charming narrative – a true story teller.
The exhibition goes a little way to try and dispel just a little of the magic behind these stories. Tim described his polished images as being not much more than cardboard and plywood: “It’s really hard to show props because that’s giving away something, but I think it’s very important that people can see physically how something is made, and the fact that it’s just made out of plywood or plastic, because the camera makes things very clean and look much more heroic than maybe they are in real life.”.
I was lucky enough to ask the man himself a couple more questions – his answers certainly inspired me and I hope you’ll be just as ready to run and pick up a camera after reading them, too…
What was the first photo that you were proud of?
I think the work I did at college. I was at Exeter Art College. I thought I couldn’t be a photographer because of the technicality involved with taking pictures and the camera, but as soon as I went to college and was explained the working of a camera called a Pentax k1000 – it’s so simple to use. And once I developed it, they were my first. They were stories – exactly what I do now. They were black and white, very very innocent and naïve and they were on stories like a chimney sweep, or a fruit picker, or a couple in love. They were little narratives that I photographed with friends as models. I went about making my own sets too. When they came out and I’d printed them, that’s when I got hooked on the magic of photography.
To enlarge a photo in a dark room, and then to put a blank piece of paper in water and watch a picture develop is magic.
Your photos are very well thought out and staged beautifully – but do you have “the photograph that got away”, on set or otherwise?
Very rarely. I see things happen in life through stories people tell me, and I bring that in front of the camera. It’s almost like a performance piece, you have an allotted time and you go for it. When I’m on a shoot, I’m very very on it – and it ends when I feel the mood has been caught.
I mean, I’ve seen a lot of people walk past me and I’ve chased them down the street and asked to photograph them, and they’ve said no – they are the ones that got away. Some people just don’t want to be perpetuated on film, it’s funny. 50% don’t want it, and I can understand that. But there are guys here like Daniel (above) that I saw sitting outside a pub – he’s one of the most incredible people I’ve ever photographed. Those clothes are his own, he turned up like that. I didn’t style that – I couldn’t style that. He’s someone who isn’t famous, but he’s an incredibly talented young man and there is nothing pretend about it. When you see someone like that on the street it gives you such a sense of hope for the future of youth. He’s the future of creativity – he’s got such individuality and uniqueness – and he’s a red head!
I know hundreds of young girls that dream of producing the images you capture. what would be your advice to young people with a camera in their hand?
This piece of advice is very important – don’t look at the state of the fashion industry and try and perpetuate that and mimic it. The greatest photographers in the history of photography and the greatest film directors have always gone their own way. If you have a friend who has a really funny neck but you still think she is beautiful, don’t be scared to document that. Stand up for what you believe is beautiful – whether someone is fat, skinny, tall, or black, Chinese or Indian – I think the importance of finding beauty in your own way is fundamental. It’s the only way you’ll succeed – never by mimicking what is already out there. It’s so important to me. Every photographer that has ever been, that has ever done anything – it’s because they’ve had the balls to say ‘this is what I believe is beautiful’. There is only ever one Steven Meisel or Irving Penn – they have an individual voice.
Story Teller runs from the 18th of October to the 27th of January at the East Wing Galleries, Somerset House. Admission is free!