Fashion and Fairy Tales – Tim Walker: Story Teller

This is the last post to come out of my visit to the lovely – and currently very Christmassy – Somerset House last weekend. At the moment, there are two photography exhibitions running there, street photography expo A Question of Colour and a dazzling display of work by fashion photographer Tim Walker, Story Teller. Even for those not interested in photography (or fashion) both exhibitions are well worth a look in as part of a trip to Somerset House, especially as – good news – admission is free!

Walker’s theatrical, surreal and often impossible images have been featured in magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, with the elaborate costuming of high-end fashion complimented by other-wordly settings and larger-than-life props. Brought together in the light, airy rooms of Somerset House, the fantastic and fairy-tale effect is very winter-wonderland, a perfect bizarre treat for the Christmas season.

The theatricality of the images is brought to life throughout the exhibition by the presence of actual props from various shoots, which seem all the more large for the small spaces containing them as the show unfolds over several rooms. Upon entry, a sky blue, life-sized spitfire aeroplane, split cleanly in two (as though it has just suffered the neatest of crashes) dwarfs the audience, while dotted around the edge are the images that resulted from this monstrous prop. Soft-focused and painterly, with a nod to the fifties in the pale, pastel colours and costuming, the images show the spitfire crashing through the walls or windows of houses, while models lounge obliviously on floral furnishings. Fake smoke trails through the elaborately detailed sets, but a bizarre cleanness lingers which lends to the impossibility and obvious theatricality of the images.

Between giant wasps playing the fiddle and pale-faced models dressed as clockwork dolls, the over-sized props and fairytale images leave the audience feeling a little lost in wonderland. Indeed, as the exhibition unfolds – doubling back on itself through a maze-like series of rooms – giant dolls, Humpty Dumptys, and even a quote from Alice in Wonderland complete the allusion to a story which Walker admits has a strong influence in his work.

“the idea of the girl who falls asleep, tumbles in to a dream world and has to find her way out. It’s the best – the trippiness and the idea of the girl as the heroine. Every girl or boy I photograph is Alice.”

Somerset House, is the perfect grand setting for the stories to unfurl. Immerse yourself in a world of giant bugs, living dolls, and enormous newspapers, complete with all the glitter and smoke of a fantasy film set, and the over-done make up, hair and costumes that only a fashion shoot could provide. Walker’s images tend to be soft, pale, pastel-coloured works of exquisite detail and meticulously clever colouring, creating a beautifully calm and pretty world for his fairy tales. However, this is a trend he’s willing to break when it suits the image, as with the sharp, black and white portraits of celebrities like Michael Palin – dressed in singed coats with make-up blackened faces – smoking a cartoonish, clockwork exploding pipe.

Although the presence of the unique props and a video of a photo-shoot, as well as the larger-than-life sized notes decorating walls in the last few rooms, suggest that Walker is inviting us to see behind the scenes of his theatricality, the result is simply the total immersion of the audience into the world of these stunning fashion photographs. So why not take a deep breath and follow Alice down the rabbit hole?

Tim Walker: Story Teller is running at Somerset House until 27th January 2013. Admission is free.

NB – All images are copyright Tim Walker

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