Exhibition review: Tim Walker at V&A
Have you ever walked into an exhibition and not taken a photograph?
If you attended Tim Walker’s exhibition, Wonderful Things, shown at the Victoria & Albert Museum on March 22nd, then you’d have certainly had your phone in your hand. These days our phones have definitely become extensions of our physical bodies. As the majority of us tend to record most moments with a click of a button, we no longer rely on just our memory. But that’s not a problem. In fact, during the exhibition it was clear that an excessive amount of photographs were being taken, (my camera roll included 123 to be exact). It is therefore interesting to think how the work would be appreciated if one didn’t photograph any of it, and simply admired it in that moment.
When entering the first room, which was certainly a favourite, an audience were presented with a vast selection of Walker’s fashion photography. The photographs were categorised by collections based on the different themes of his shoots such as portraiture, outdoor photography, and indoor installations. What cemented each of these collections was the integration of text that stood alongside the set of images. This provided the audience with an insight into Walker’s thinking and conceptual process behind each shoot. One of the quotes cited the artist Francis Bacon alongside the images in the 'Chapel of Nudes': “The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express”. The contradiction of "no picture" being able to express beauty as a statement alongside Tim Walker’s very imagery becomes reflexive. This is Walker’s very intention, to frame beauty, although he does share a connection with Bacon's known style of obscuring the presence of his subject matter.
Looking closely at the way in which Walker frames his subject the theme of beauty is questionable. Despite how varnished the images are with ornate and glamorous styling, there is a crude relationship between the technicality of the camera and how it depicts the models as warped figures. This is evident in the fisheye style lens that creates a curved an elongated depiction of each model. Notably, this is certainly cohesive amongst Walker’s photography and thus becomes a trade mark for an audience to establish when identifying his work.
The specific ambience being his photography in the exhibition, was through each room becoming a frame for the work to exist in. For example the wallpaper, colour scheme, furniture, sound, and lighting were specifically designed to create a tonality for the work. This tonality enabled a specific reading, potentially guiding the audience into the perception of the work. Conversely, this isn’t the best example of an installation leveraging the photography as it is potentially a cliché in relation to the images. But considerably the V&A must cater for a mainstream audience who may enjoy this guidance and accessibility. I simply wonder, if the design of the set could become photographic itself, in the style of how Walker’s work exists as this may show a greater maturity to his practice. What if the rooms became warped in relation to how the viewer perceived his work?
It was experiential to see the development of Walker’s practice as a photographer. The implementation of his sketchbooks created a moment for the audience to pause and recognise the infancy stages of his career. This also adds a hyphen towards the thinking processes, development stages and moments of reflection that subside the experience of one creating a final photograph for a publication, print or medium. It is therefore worth seeing Walker’s work in the flesh because not only will one (particularly aspiring photographers), find a consistent articulation of fashion imagery but an insight towards diverse representations is also acknowledged in Walker’s work. He theatrically engages with his imagery to exaggerate his depictions of interpreting celebrities and personalities beyond their everyday aesthetic, through the camera’s positioning.
Now, returning back to the act of photography and our need to record and document. I recently spent some time collecting images from fashion magazines. One of these magazines included Tim Walker’s photography shoot from South Asia. Before I knew it was his work, the colour pallet and diverse subject matter was caught my interest. These became second hand materials which I translated into a collaged pattern design. I wanted to include the image of the collage alongside this article, to mark the journey that goes with creating. Often we find an image at a point in our lives and may not know what the relevance is in that moment, but then, momentarily we will find ourselves at a later point knowing just why we found that image. So, to end, if you see something that you like at the exhibition, photograph it and maybe it will hold some further significance in the future. Or simply it will remain as a JPEG collected in your camera roll.