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.
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.
“To me, the V&A has always been a palace of dreams—it’s the most inspiring place in the world.” Walker said. “The museum’s collection is so wide and eclectic, and I think that’s why it resonates with me so much. Many of the objects that I saw during my research at the museum made my heart swell and I wanted to try to create a photograph that would relate not only to the physical presence and beauty of that object, but also to my emotional reaction to it. Each new shoot is a love letter to an object from the V&A collection, and an attempt to capture my encounter with the sublime. For me, beauty is everything. I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries that society has created, to enable more varied types of beauty and the wonderful diversity of humanity to be celebrated. Preparing for this exhibition over the past three years has pushed me into new territories, which is very exciting, and I’m at a stage in my life where I feel brave enough to do that.”
To me, the V&A has always been a palace of dreams—it’s the most inspiring place in the world.
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.
Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is the latest in the museum’s ambitious series of projects working in collaboration with contemporary practitioners. The exhibition opens just under a year after the launch of Phase One of the V&A Photography Centre, a new space to showcase the museum’s world-class photographic holdings.
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