Monday, October 29, 2012

Tim Walker: Fairytales never looked so fashionable

Image: Tim Walker, Storyteller 
"Every girl or boy I photograph is Alice" - Tim Walker

The faded grandeur of Somerset House makes the perfect backdrop for fashion photographer Tim Walker's fantastical new exhibition, 'Storyteller'. Fittingly, it was Halloween weekend when we tumbled into Tim Walker's wonderland and found ourselves in his topsy turvy world, which is both terrific and terrifying.

Image: Tim Walker, Storyteller
Tim Walker's mission is to turn daydreams into photographs, paying tribute to childhood fairy tales and English eccentricity on a dazzling and cinematic scale. Abandoned mansions provide the blank canvas for Tim's houses of fun, where pink clouds explode among the rhododendrons, World War II aeroplanes crash into the drawing room, and, brilliantly, a flying saucer interrupts a fox hunt.

Image: Tim Walker, Storyteller
These elaborate, imaginative sets evoke the macabre beauty of Tim Burton and the trippy theatricality of Baz Lurhman, but it's not a case of style over substance; Tim's work also displays an ethereal, wistful innocence that for some reason strikes a surprisingly emotional chord. At times I felt a tinge of sadness and nostalgia looking at some of his pictures, as you might feel when you play with your childhood doll's house again as an adult, and only then realise how wonderfully innocent and fragile it had been.

Image: Tim Walker, Storyteller
But it's not all Disney and 'happily ever afters'; there are monsters in the wardrobe, and you get the sense that at any moment, the house of cards could come tumbling down. Everyone who has ever read the original version of The Little Mermaid will know that in the classic creepy fairy tales, darkness lurks unsettlingly alongside the whimsical and beautiful. So it is in Tim's world.

In one photograph, a giant cello-playing bumblebee sits on a child's bed, who hides beneath it, unsure if the visitor is friendly or frightening. There is also something both joyful and sinister about Walker's portraits of the Monty Python old boys, clouded in a ghostly smoke as they inhale their exploding pipes.

Image: Tim Walker, Vanity Fair
The musical bumblebee is one of many props that are actually on display in the exhibition space, real and tangible. Also present are the WWII aeroplane, a giant snail, a skeleton, several grinning mechanical puppets and a romantic swan boat, all of which were used in his photo shoots.

Inside the exhibition. Image: from
By including these genuine artefacts from his fantasy land, Tim blurs the boundaries between the safe, real world and the surreal landscape of his photographs.

It's a bit like when you wake up from a vivid dream, both relieved and disappointed to realise you are in your own bed, only to find some little memento under your pillow that proves it was all real after all...

Tim Walker: Storyteller, supported by Mulberry, runs until 27 January at Somerset House, free entry.

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