The revival of Belle Epoque of the macabre romanticism through the most sincerely surrealistic lenses of the British legend Tim Walker, against the severe private world of fashion photography. Even if known for his dream-like images captured in dramatical flamboyant sets that ultimately complement and showcase the haute couture garments that he photographs, he rejects fashion for being his basic inspiration as according to him “fashion is a celebration of the individual: I find the vast majority of fashion is perpetuating something that has already been – particularly with how human beings are portrayed within it. I find it repetitive; I think I’ve always been drawn to something that’s a little more individual.” What he seems to be doing instead is the detection of beauty that challenges the clichés, through his crystal clear appreciation of his childhood storybooks and the raw allurement they consist of.
Such inner sensitivity both visible at his projects’ topics and throughout his words, as an eternal anthem to childhood’s gaudy innocence is all evident in his statement: “if I’m photographing someone they’re putting their cards on the table and making themselves vulnerable and I think you have to meet them and be vulnerable too in terms of what you’re standing up for. And that’s alright when you’re working for magazines, because you do the shoots and they get published and people forget. But when you’re doing a show that’s wearing its heart on its sleeve like this one is you feel very vulnerable about it. But stuff it. Stuff it, you know?”
His aesthetic choices follow an off-kilter tessellation pattern that can only be developed further by his next project which always falls into place and fills the gaps of his previous one. The depicted subjects give the viewer the paradoxical impression of having experienced that before, through the extravagant familiarity only the dreamscape of fantasy can offer. In these terms, it is more possible that the viewer has dreamed similar to the depicted, subjects than having met them in real life. This is not because of the inhuman dimensions but mainly because of its theatrical grotesque character out of Amedeo Modigliani’s figure-prototype together with his large-scale props and installations used to evoke the fairy-tale nature behind his pictures.
Such juxtaposing identification of the viewer with the unreal dimensions of the depicted ones is not ironic because it is based on the fragility of perfection, or otherwise put, on the notion that because everything is so extravagantly perfect, it needs a bird’s hoovering to tear everything down, and reveal the underlying tragedy. In this scenario, fashion plays a pivotal role, acting as the dazzling coverage of the otherwise metaphorically-in-fairytale-terms depicted human drama. This is clear through his tricky but fruitful references to for example, the bizarre but astonishing Vivienne Westwood and Tilda Swinton combined with a Tim-Burton-neo-gothic palette, charging his characters with a straightforward contemporary romanticism.
Despite his statements concerning the nature of fashion, Tim Walker manages to be one of the most referenced artists in recent fashion history, as for example after his shoot at the Glastonbury festival, featuring “campfires, supermodels, foil capes and muddy fields”, a show that redefined the levels of spectacle. All this always marking indelibly the souls of the audience with a smooth eroticism, not steaming from the praising of the body’s charm, but through the unfulfilled feelings after the conflict of the childhood’s images with the reality’s abilities.
It doesn’t matter if it is a lush tableaux or stripped-back portraits (each signalling different points of his career though), because either way the key subjects will be stably characterised by the androgyny of Stella Tennant, the strangeness of Kristen McMenamy and the challenging looks of Karen Elson, making clear the view of masculinity and femininity as not limited to male and female bodies, respectively and that his whimsical portrayals are only narrowed by the parameters of the impossible.
Dedicated to E&N and our Sunday night´s window-smokes.
Photo selection out of the artist´s gallery, no rights infringement intended.
Written and curated by Marianna Serveta