Wonderful Things: Fashion Photography at the V&A
Illustration by Rebecca Marks
Last September saw the opening of the V&A’s latest exhibition to delve into the mesmerising world of fashion photography. ‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ was a comprehensive exploration of the work of the renowned artist Tim Walker. A reoccurring name behind shoots for both major magazines and fashion houses worldwide, he is known for his distinctive image-taking that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. It was for this landmark exhibition that over 150 new photographs inspired by objects from the Museum’s collection were captured.
Born in 1970, Walker developed an early interest in fashion photography whilst cataloguing the images of Cecil Beaton in the Condé Nast archives. He was stirred by the work of this great pioneer of British camerawork to pursue a degree in photography before taking up the role as assistant to Richard Avedon in New York. At 25, Walker shot his first story for Vogue in what was to become one of many commissions for the magazine’s international titles. He has since contributed to advertising campaigns for brands including Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen. It is his fantastical aesthetic and exuberant imagination that has placed Walker at the forefront of his industry. Often playing with the surreal and unexpected, his idiosyncratic approach to image-taking can be as beautiful and creative as the clothes that he shoots.
In the lead-up to the exhibition, Walker was invited by the V&A to explore its collections and pick out ten objects to inspire a new series of photographs. He described it as an ‘extraordinary’ experience, both ‘a privilege and an education’. He was granted access to the archives and conservation studios where he met many of the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to preserve the nation’s artefacts. It was here that he picked out a range of items including Audrey Beardsley illustrations, a Renaissance stained-glass window, and a 65-metre photographic recreation of the Bayeux tapestry to base his next set of images on.
Towards the end of the exhibition was a room dedicated to the textile conservators at the Museum. Titled ‘Handle with Care’, the series of photographs hung on the walls are based upon Walker’s experience of seeing Alexander McQueen’s ‘Horn of Plenty’ dress exquisitely preserved in protective wrapping at the V&A’s Clothworker’s Centre. The photographer captured the models Karen Elson, James Crewe and Sgaire Wood posing like mannequins amongst casing similar to that surrounding the original robe. It was a testament not only to his skills as a creator of images, but as providing apt homage to some of the greatest fashion designers in modern history.
In this exhibition that spanned the twenty-five-year career of one of the most legendary fashion photographers of the 21st century, the V&A opened up to the public an insight into the imagination of a man who finds beauty in the most unlikely of places.