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Tim Walker: Story Teller | Preview & Interview

Tim Walker presents ‘Story Teller’ at Somerset House supported by Mulberry – The British photographer’s most extravagant exhibition to date features photography from his extensive fashion editorials and the props that were used including the giant doll from Vogue Italia‘s January ’12 issue.

Also featured is Walker’s first short film ‘The Lost Explorer’ alongside a series of films specially curated by Tim himself and films that have inspired and influenced many of his images, including cult movies such as La Belle et la Bete, The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death and never seen before imagery created for the exhibition.

We sat down with the iconic image maker on the eve of the exhibition launch to discuss his inspiration, inspiring set design, introduction to fashion photography and what changed his mind from wanting to become a stylist.

What’s your favourite part of the exhibition?

The table portraits, it’s polar opposites to the big set pieces, and how to make that work, because that idea involves just a table and that person’s character. It’s important to interact and be playful with the camera when it’s just one person.

Who did you enjoy photographing most out of the portraits?

There’s a guy called Nathaniel with red hair holding a white carnation. It’s him because when you’re photographing someone who is already known it’s not really a discovery. With him he’s not a famous person but he’s got such an innate sense of style that’s completely his own and he’s so elegant. I think to be able to perpetuate that on film looks incredible so then that becomes a very powerful thing.

Or even Lucy, she’s not famous, but she’s becoming a very good and talented makeup artist. When I met her she’d just come down on the bus to London and everything was beginning for her. That’s the exciting part.

Not necessarily someone like Alber Elbaz, who although he’s good to photograph he’s very comfortable infront of the camera. I think it’s the awkwardness that I find really appealing when someone is just starting out and not quite sure what to do with themselves.

Why have you put on your new exhibition?

A lot of people don’t understand how pictures are taken and don’t get the bridge between the image and the magazine and how it gets there. The point of this show is to open it up and give that bridge, so when you look at the giant spitfire you can see that it’s made out of polystyrene and fiberglass, there’s an amateur-ness to it.

But that’s not to say the props aren’t wonderfully made

They really are amazing, and that’s something I have really focused on and crafted. I’ve worked really closely with the set designers. This show is really all about the set design to me and people deserve to walk into a room and look at them – the spitfire shoot more than anything – they couldn’t understand how it was done and questioned whether it was done digitally but it’s all real, so I wanted to show it. Also it’s a way of reinforcing my opinion about the importance of the emotion of photography, it all happens on camera.

So has CGI affected the way you work at all?

I don’t use it. I might in moving film but not photography. The link with all these pictures is the emotion in them and if people are ok – see this image here  you’ve got Stella Tennant and another girl – Imogen – standing on a collapsed piano. They were there, that’s real. She’s wearing a very restrictive Dior Couture dress and she was wobbling on the ladder – it was all very real. You’re working within the boundary of what you’ve got in front of you and that creates the emotion.

With all the wondrous set design on your editorial shoots, do your storyboards or budget come first?

Storyboard. In the exhibition you’ll see the giant doll for the Vogue Italia shoot we did back in January. When you see the storyboard we did before we shot the pictures it’s interesting to see how close they are to the finished thing, which is quite rare. Normally it doesn’t quite work out how you imagined it but they’re all storyboarded, usually with a note to change because sometimes you can’t be too rigid.

What’s been you’re favourite shoot to date?

I think it’s probably my latest shoot, which was made specifically for the show, so no one has seen it yet – the insect pictures. So you’re the first to see them! They haven’t been published, so them – and I think as a photographer, your last pictures are your most valuable.

What photographers past or present do you admire?

Millions! Irving Penn, because he wasn’t just interested in clothes, he understood the sensitivity of humans, especially in his portraits. Other than that, Cecil Beaton, Bruce Webber, Nick Knight, I could go on…

I’ll stop you there! I’ve read in the past that you initially wanted to be a stylist, what changed your mind to becoming a photographer?

I doubted that by being a man, albeit a gay man, that I could be great to dress women and to portray women.

That’s interesting. What made you think that?

At that age I thought being a man, am I going to really understand how to dress the female form? I think in the end, it would have been a disaster because I’m quite theatrical in that sense and I work with stylists now – men and women who are so brilliant at making the theatricality relevant to fashion.

I don’t do that, I come up with the idea ‘oh a giant dog, I’d love to shoot that’ which was actually suggested by Andy Hillman and then the stylist Jacob K came up with the idea for casting and looking at the collections, looking at punk, the band hole, looking at what Meadham Kirchhoff were doing, developments to fashion at the time, developments to grunge and putting it all together and making it relevant. I would have been a bad stylist because I would have put her in a little lace dress and be done with it.

How did you find your introduction to fashion photography?

Through being interested in photography, and then realizing that fashion photography was the branch where stories could be told like fairytales and big lies. I think the point of photography is about telling the truth and documentary photography is treated as king but fashion photography is where you can lie, and people want you to lie. They say the camera never lies but I think it actually lies more than any other place in fashion; and the more it lies the more people celebrate it.

Wouldn’t that be considered as escapism?

Yeah escapism and lies. (laughs)

Watch the exclusive preview video from Mulberry below:

Catch Tim Walker: Storyteller at Somerset House from 18th October – January 27th 2013.

– Sufiyeh Hadian

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