A Discussion of Tim Walker’s Work Essay

Walkers’ upbringing in Guildford, surrounded by country has left in him with a feeling of love when it comes to Britain’s landscapes that he wants to show it off in his images, in any which way he can. This essay compares and contrast two works by Tim Walker that are identifiable as his signature style, however individually differ in diverse ways to each other. Taking into consideration the ideas behind the image and how and where he draws his inspiration from to create images that inspire others.

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His style so unique and recognisable, this essay will take into consideration the historical and social contexts to his works and if his style is a reflection of his inner self, childhood and naturally occurring ideas, or if this style is something he created and now lives within. After graduating from Exeter College of Art, where he studied photography for 3 years, Walker worked as a freelance photography assistant in London. However, it was his move to New York and assisting the photographer Richard Avedon that may have forwarded his career so that at the very early age of 25 he had shot his first fashion story for Vogue.

Today a London based photographer, Tim Walker is at the top of his profession and internationally known for his cutting- edge fashion photography; taking fashion further so that fashion becomes seconded to fantasy and surrealism. Walkers innovative photography places him in the midst of the most creative and imaginative photographers out there today. ‘Tim sees pictures in front of him which are not yet there’ (DERRICK, 2008, p124. It is the detailed planning of every image and the ideas that starts the process of the final images he is famous for; for each project of Tim’s, you’ll be able to find a scrapbook full of clippings and ideas found from anywhere. ‘My ideas for all my photographs come from any number of places; a film, or a book I’m reading, a story someone tells me. I take loads of visual references and put them into scrapbooks. I’ve got hundreds of them. ’ (WALKER, 2009, [WWW]) It is these scrapbooks that have provided inspiration for a number of Tim’s shoots.

But it’s to be remembered that the inspiration has come from things that have already been, but that he took interest in. ‘I don’t believe in originality. You take inspiration from whatever moves you and you find your own voice in those things’ (WALKER, 2008, p242) Tim Walker saying this, is almost find ironic because his pictures are often named original. However, if it is replicated from/inspired by something/anything he may have seen before- as like most pictures- it can only be your take with your voice on it. However Walker’s inspiration doesn’t stop at that, he also looks to photographers before him for inspiration. Cecil Beaton took so many photographs that purely to me represent the joy one gets from creating fantasy” (WALKER TIM, 2009, [WWW]) The opening to Tim Walkers book Pictures, like all others, start with a foreword. However, unlike all others Tim has handwritten his as if it was just another page in his scrapbook. Located only six pages in after only the credits and title, this is really the very first thing you see in the book and it gives great indication to the style of the book and if you did not know much about Tim beforehand; a great introduction to him, his style and how he thinks.

Not only is it the actually content of the foreword: ‘as you tour your imagination you want to photograph what you are seeing…you are SO very keen to be able to show what you’ve seen that it somehow becomes true, and the picture you end up taking becomes a souvenir, a piece of proof brought back [all the way] from the daydream. ’ (WALKER, 2008, P6) But the design and the layout of the page also: He cleverly drops the control of the layout, slanting the writing just as he talks about his mind drifting. It’s a clever play on the typography that as we read, we too feel as if we’ve sunken into this relaxed state of daydreaming.

The way Tim describes in depth the path he often goes on that lands him at the conclusion of an image shows deeply how creative it often is, usually because it begins with something as simple as walking round a clothes store. The pictures he takes then become a snapshot almost, and a gift he shares with us from his imagination…from his daydream. Tim’s childhood plays a big part in the ‘fun’ many of his images are filled with. ‘He draws upon his childhood to construct sets for his images that are witty and playful yet sufficiently sophisticated enough to perform for his fashion clients. (THOMAS, 2008, [WWW]) Bringing such essences of an adolescent age into something quite professional could be risky, but it is this that give’s Tim’s pictures that exciting, magical vibe. Tim Walker says in an ICP awards interview, ‘fashion is the dream department for photography and I’ve always been a daydreamer. Tim’s pictures relate to and reflect a time in the 1940’s era and the time of the Neo-Romantic artists, that happened at a time of Britain’s ‘dark hours’. Today, although we might not be in the middle of Second World War, the world is in a state of uncertainty.

For Walker, it may just be that creativity in fashion photography and the understanding of make believe places in his imaginations may just be the sort of images that the world need to see, to remember themselves, how magical and escapist day-dreaming can be. The first image of Tim Walkers I have chosen is this one titled ‘Lily Cole on fish hook. ’ Surrealism is a big factor in the creation of a Tim Walker shoot and it is the surrealism in this image that makes it so striking. It grabs your attention straight away and with little effort in the actual design of the image.

Although the content is completely random, the image works in so many different ways that you almost don’t recognise it until a few moments after looking. The whole image looks calm; the stillness of the water, the sunlight reflected off of it, the grip of her hands on the hook, her expression. This image is magical, because it looks right, for something that shouldn’t ever be. The shoot was located in Northumberland, England and the location only helps set this calm relaxed scene as well as adding to that ‘very English’ feeling he often brings forth to many of his images.

Recreational fishing is fishing for pleasure, with the fisher not really too interested in catching fish, but for the tranquillity and relaxation of it. This shoot, is extremely reflective of this, oozing tranquillity with the colours and calmness. Lily allowing her tip toes to play with the surface of the water, creating disturbance in it, works well within the image; it doesn’t have a negative effect on it, but almost brings her as a model to life. This was not Lily’s first shoot with Tim, and posing as bait on a giant fish hook was nothing out of the ordinary madness.

He loved working with the English model, who first posed for him at the age of 15. ‘Some Models know how to stitch and weave themselves into a picture. Lily instinctively knows how to become part of it. ’ (WALKER, 2008, p124) In this image of Lily on the hook, she really does own it; she pulls of her ‘act’ as bait, attracting the fish just with her stance and beauty, and looking calm and really engaged with the photographer. She’s wearing a random collaboration of 3 tutus and her hair fizzed up to mirror them.

Although quite dainty and delicate in body, she looks strong and very in control – ironic to her state as bait. But this works nicely as the setting of the lake and the fields in the background add to that gentle voice the image has, balancing it nicely. The second image is one that Walker had designed for Italian Vogue. The image named ‘Eglingham Stream’ was shot in Northumberland, England, 2004. The image shows a bedroom with a stream running through it from the fireplace. The room is cluttered, and filled with clear personal belongings of somebody.

The contents of the coat stand and the drinks trolley-in which the whiskey is the most noticeable bottle-all refer to the occupant being a man. The fishes on the stone and those in the basket on the table suggest that the person that lives her is a man that has a fond passion for fishing. These objects that the viewer initially notices, cleverly lead them to be mysterious as to what the image is showing us. When looking further into the image, we notice smaller details such as the images framed on the wall that are not of any family members or portraits of him, but of horses and landscapes.

This could suggest that he has no family members and is possibly quite a reserved man and this is strengthened by the big matter of his room being right by the lake. It raises questions as to how obsessed this man actually is with fishing, that he has moved his bedroom to live within meters of the lake. Although, there are some signifiers that suggest that a woman is present: the pink bedding and net chiffon, the frill trimmed lamps and the two tooth brushes on the chest of drawers. There is also a small portrait of a young boy in the frame above the fireplace.

Because of how out of place this looks as the only one, it seems to be a ‘woman’s touch’, as do the shells on top of the fireplace. The image as a whole has a romantic, feminine and fantastical feel-created by the lighting and whispery stream-that is signature to Walkers style. The shoot seems to be set in the twilight hour, or in the early evening, indicated by the bluely tint to the night and the 3 lamps in the room being on. The absence in the room could well just mean that the man is off fishing with his dog shown by the empty dog basket.

There are many things about both the images that make them similar when talking about them in context of Walkers style. Both images were shot in Northumberland in the same year and although it isn’t stated, the lake that we see Lily suspended above is likely to be part of the stream that is present in the second image. The images both have strong fishing references to them: Lily is suspended on a giant fishing hook, and the setting of the second is the home of someone completely obsessed with fishing. The images are not part of the same set or story, and do not look it either.

However, contextually, they seem to work hand in hand. Having the countryside and fields in the background that run our eyes to the edge of the Fish Hook image just above the halfway line is similar in comparison to the way the Eglingham Stream image is cut off. This image is split by the striking pink/reddish colour of the walls meeting the grey wet slate form the stream that make the bedroom floor. Both splitting factors are of natural earthly objects; possibly representing that county, earthly, English vibe Walker has been known to create in many of his images. There is a terrible truthfulness about photography that the ideas which might work in a painting or a sketch won’t necessarily work in a photograph’ (UNKNOWN, 2008, p254. ) This statement is from Tim Walkers book Pictures and although this was not said in reference to Walkers work, it almost seems as if this is something he fights hard to overcome in his own pictures. He doesn’t let the normal be a limit, he combines familiarity with fantasy and imagination to create what has never been seen before.

This is what gives them that edge over many other fantastic editorials, and sketching ideas to visualise them is a big thing with Tim Walker; something he prides his work upon. Despite all their similarities, the images are in fact very different and not only of location and setting, but of story and design. In the first image of Lily on the hook, that is the surrealism; this beautiful girl dressed in a random combination of tutus with huge frizzy ginger hair hanging on a fishing hook. This is what we are supposed to look at and see the dreamlike, far from ordinary image in front of us.

In the second image, the stream running out of the fire place through the middle of the room is also surreal, but that’s not only what the image is about. It’s about the story the scene creates. Yes you look at the stream and think ‘wow’ and begin to question it, but it doesn’t stop there, your questioning goes on to the room and what the contents of it mean. The images also differ in terms of layout. The first is portrait and works better in this format as it allows the full size of the hook to be appreciated.

If this was on a landscape layout, the surrealism of the hook may not be fully valued due to it physically having to be shrunk on the page. However, the double page landscape layout for the second image allows a full viewing of the room and many details and objects to be noticed. This image in a portrait layout would not be successful as the image would have to be shrunken or cropped- both having negative effects on the way the image is viewed. The subject matter and the use of a model being used in the first image but not in the second is another differing factor between them both.

Lily as a model is the subject in Figure 2 that the viewer connects with; she gives the image that presence so that when we look at it, it’s not just a picture, it’s a situation that we feel as if we are now part of. In Figure 3, Tim Walker is successful in including the viewer, but in a very different way and without using any models; we are invited to look into somebody’s bedroom while they are not there and just by looking at the photograph, the viewer becomes an intruder. But this intrusion plays as a foundation for the story behind the image, the one we seek out and uncover more of the more we look at it.

Although the lamps warm up the image, it still has this cold feel created by the grey stones, real flowing stream and lack of natural light. The absence of anybody in the room assists in creating this ‘chill-in- the-air’ feeling. Figure 2, where Lily is standing on a large fishing hook, has a surprisingly warm tone to it and this may be due to her relaxed pose and the warming colours present in the image: The ginger of her hair, the red of her tutu and the fishing tackle and the brown/copper of the lake.

The colours are softened by the sunlight adding to that warm tone. ‘Photography is a bit like cooking: you take the ingredients out of the cupboard and mix them up- old pictures, characters, colours, landscapes, to create something that is in your imagination that surprises you. ’ (WALKER, 2009, P208) It is clear to see that Walker uses certain ingredients in both of these images; fantasy and surrealism become like the salt and pepper; the underlying flavour and present always.

After looking at Lily On The Hook and Eglingham Stream in comparison to each other, many similarities are because of Walkers ‘style’ that are consistent throughout. Even though both are editorials, contently, technically and visually, there is a big difference between them. Creatively, they are alike. These are just two out of hundreds of Tim Walkers photographs, but as like all of his images, there will always be something magical, fantastical or romantic to hint that the image was photographed by Walker. The images are real in their own terms; that is what they are. As a fashion photographer you are a documentary photographer within a fantasy land. ’ (WALKER, 2009, p210) By Walker referring to himself as a documentary photographer within a fantasy land gives us a clear insight to how he sees fashion photography; in a childlike day-dream way. He escapes to this place in which his imagination can be real and he sees his job as a photographer to document this.

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