Entering Tim Walker’s strange world is like stepping into the mind of some demented child who has been read Rudyard Kipling for days and then set loose in his mother’s closet.
Sumptuously costumed, on lavish sets in far reaching places like New Guinea or Iceland; high priced people the likes of Tim Burton and Tilda Swinton simp and pose at the whim of this eccentric magician.
Our perceptions of the world itself are Walker’s playthings. He creates an adult world out of childish fantasy; his photos straddle—almost inappropriately but always beautifully—hidden desires and ecstatic expression.
Like an illusionist he manipulates his fantastic vision into one of high art and fashion. As though sprung to life from storybook pages, his models become characters in macabre fairytales where princesses are weary, and Prince Charming is an androgynous waif. Impishly he commands some of the most bizarre and imaginative sets the fashion world has ever seen.
Walker’s career was charmed from the start; within a year of graduation from a London university, he was working under what must have been the profound tutelage of the brilliant portrait photographer Richard Avedon and shooting his first fashion story for Vogue.
Since then, as the opulence of his work has grown, so exponentially has its quality. Now, filmmakers document his shoots and make artistic statements of their own, and artists labour to create his props like huge outsized dolls, or to fill rooms with cakes or entire houses with sand.
“Fashion is the dream department of photography, and I’ve always been a daydreamer,” he has said.
Walker was a natural photographer from childhood, but was intimidated by the technicalities of the camera. He thought he’d be a set designer until a teacher explained that a camera was simply “a box that you put in between yourself and what you want to capture”. But, as is obvious in his photos, designing the sets is still what most takes his fancy.
He works from scrapbooks, hundreds of them, which he fills with what he calls “random ingredients that I draw on to bake a photograph that makes sense to me.” An apt analogy as he is influenced by his mother, a baker who taught him the importance of good ingredients, and along with inspiring snippets of life, to him the ingredients of his photographs are the people he works with and all the elements that make up the shoot: the makeup, the hair, the costumes; “they’re all ingredients that you pull on,” he says.
The scope of Walker’s shoots are ambitious, and the extent that his employers are willing to go to indulge his ideas are almost unparalleled; a testament to the trust he has built with the arresting effect of his completed work.
Like paintings, his photographs expand before the eye and hover in elegant stillness—perfect, rich, and impossible. His models become living dolls. Sensually, Walker’s portraits entice and tempt our longings for something beautiful and strange; he animates our mundane world, and romanticizes the alien.