If you see one exhibition this season, make it Tim Walker: Wonderful Things
Tim Walker: Wonderful Things invites visitors into the fantastical imagination of one of the world’s most inventive photographers and is the largest retrospective of Walker’s work to date. There are 10 new projects woven through the exhibition, where he has drawn upon the V&A’s vast collection for inspiration, with the helping hands of many of the museum’s curators, conservators and technicians.
The photographer scoured the V&As 145 public galleries and explored the labyrinth of Victorian passages below ground level, encountering stain glass windows, vivid Indian paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations and large-scale tapestries to arouse new ideas. Here are some of the highlights to enjoy whilst journeying through Walker’s enchanting body of work.
“Tim has a wildly inquisitive mind and boundless energy, he never stops innovating and these new pictures are some of the most spectacular he has ever made.” Shona Heath, Exhibition Designer
Fashion stories and famous portraits
The first room of the exhibition displays inventive fashion editorials alongside portraits of luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough, Margaret Atwood, Peter Blake and David Hockney, as well as a constellation of performers including Cate Blanchett, Daniel-Day Lewis, Saoirse Ronan and Solange Knowles – just to name a few. A whole wall is devoted to Walker’s muses too, from Tilda Swinton and Lindsay Kemp to Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss.
In perhaps what is the most colourful room of the whole exhibition, Cloud 9 was inspired by the V&A’s historical paintings from South Asia and celebrates the region’s vibrancy through photographs swathed in colour. The images were shot in the Worcestershire delphinium fields during a heatwave and Shona Heath’s installations and set design convey the Eastern mysticism perfectly.
Handle with care
The next room is inspired by the work of the V&As textile conservators, who look after and preserve the museum’s world-leading fashion and textiles collection. Pictures of Karen Elson, James Crewe and Sgaire Wood are displayed alongside a dress from Alexander McQueen’s 2009 collection, which Walker came across at the V&A Clothworkers’ centre wrapped up, describing it as a “beautiful ghost.”
Box of delights
Inspired by a 1675 embroidered casket that Walker found in the V&A, Box of Delights hints at fantasy, transformation and a world where you can be yourself. The photoshoot revolves around James Spencer, who burst out of his family home dressed as a beautiful woman. Walker explains that he was inspired by the London club scene and its freedom of expression.
Soldiers of Tomorrow
Walker discovered a photo of the Bayeux Tapestry in the V&A that measured 65 metres long – the biggest photograph he had ever seen. This piece tells the story of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and when creating his own photographs, Walker wanted to recreate not just the violence, but the fine detail, texture and colour of the old tapestry. The images depict its chaos and beauty using recycled materials.
“As the fashion industry can be wasteful and polluting, I liked the idea of everything being recycled, homemade and hand-knitted for this shoot. The figures are eco-warriors, the soldiers of tomorrow.” - Tim Walker
After discovering the V&A’s collection of snuffboxes – in particular one featuring a dragon – Walker reimagined an empress walking her pet dragon by night for this series of images. Set designer Shona Heath was inspired by the rainbows within the shells on the snuffboxes and suggested using UV on the photographs, adding a unique twist to the Lil Dragon room.
Why not be oneself?
Towards the end of the exhibition, Walker portrays Tilda Swinton as the poet Dame Edith Sitwell in a celebration of age and individuality. Her flamboyant wardrobe included flowing brocade robes, velvet gowns, turbans and golden shoes and as a distant relative of the Dame, Tilda was the perfect choice to inhabit Renishaw Hall.