Tim Walker HonFRPS at the V&A

15 April 2019


Open: 21st September 2019–8th March 2020. Location: London.

The V&A stages largest-ever exhibition on Walker with over 150 new works inspired by its collection.

Tim Walker: “To me, the V&A has always been a palace of dreams – it’s the most inspiring place in the world.”

In September 2019, a new V&A exhibition invites visitors to experience the fantastical imagination of Tim Walker. Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is the largest exhibition of Walker’s pictures to date. It celebrates his contribution to image-making over the last 25 years and the role that the V&A’s collection plays in his creative process.

At the heart of the exhibition are 10 major new photographic projects, directly influenced by treasures in the V&A’s vast collection. In preparation for the exhibition, Walker visited object stores and conservation studios, meeting many of the museum’s curators, conservators and technicians. He scoured the V&A’s 145 public galleries, scaled the roof of the 12-acre South Kensington site, and explored the labyrinth of Victorian passages below ground level. Along the way, he encountered luminous stained-glass windows, vivid Indian miniature paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations, golden shoes, and a 50-metre-long photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry, the largest photograph in the museum’s collection. These and many other rare artefacts have inspired Walker’s monumental new photographs, and feature in the exhibition designed by leading British creative, Shona Heath.

Zo, Kiran Kandola, Firpal, Yusuf, Ravyanshi Mehta, Jeenu Mahadevan, Chawntell Kulkami, & Radhika Nair. Fashion: Marni, Paolina Russo, Missoni, Ahluwalia Studio, Bottega Veneta, Chloé, Lou Dallas. Pershore, Worcestershire, 2018 © Tim Walker Studio

About the exhibition
Designed by leading creative director and Walker’s long-term collaborator Shona Heath, the exhibition showcases over 300 items, encompassing photographs and the V&A objects that inspired them, short films, photographic sets and props, scrapbooks and sketches. Heath’s spectacular design guides visitors on a journey through Walker’s enchanted world. Text written by Walker adds personal insight and celebrates the talents of the many collaborators who help bring his ideas to life.

The exhibition begins with 100 pictures from Walker’s previous projects and extracts from his Super 8 films, displayed in a sleek, white space. Walker first came to prominence in the 1990s with his unique approach to visual storytelling, blurring fantasy and reality to create pictures that can be surreal, lavish, humorous and touching. These images are populated by some of the biggest names in fashion: models including Edie Campbell, Lily Cole, Karen Elson and Stella Tennant and designers including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons and Rick Owens.

Walker’s reference points are disparate, ranging from fairy tales to The Beatles’ lyrics, yet his photographs share a sensibility that is unmistakably his own. He avoids Photoshop and other virtual tools in favour of beautifully crafted physical sets and inspiring locations, from Myanmar to Japan and Mexico.

Tim Walker Duckie Thot Aubreys shadow London 2017 copyright Tim Walker Studio
Duckie Thot, Aubrey’s shadow. Fashion: Saint Laurent. London, 2017 © Tim Walker Studio

The first room of the exhibition displays these inventive fashion stories alongside portraits of luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough, Peter Blake and David Hockney, and a constellation of performers including Riz Ahmed, Cate Blanchett, Björk, Timothée Chalamet, Beth Ditto, Daniel Day-Lewis, Claire Foy, Saoirse Ronan and Solange Knowles. One wall is devoted to the photographer’s muses, including performers Tilda Swinton and Lindsay Kemp, models Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss, and the artist Grayson Perry. The first part of the exhibition concludes with five projects devoted to the nude.

The main exhibition space contrasts with the brightness of the first gallery to reveal a darker environment, rich with texture, colour and sound. Ten evocative room sets display Walker’s new series of photographs inspired by the V&A. Each set includes a group of V&A objects selected by Walker, displayed alongside the photographs they inspired. Heath makes use of the cavernous exhibition gallery to display elements of the photoshoots’ sets and props at great height.

The first of these rooms is Illuminations, which evokes the interior of a burned-out cathedral. On display are sixteenth-century stained glass panels and an exquisite illuminated manuscript made in the 1470s for the Duchess of Brittany. These Renaissance treasures inspired Walker’s pictures, which hang as large-scale framed prints close-by.

Another room, Pen & Ink, takes the whiplash graphic lines of Aubrey Beardsley’s provocative illustrations from the 1890s as a starting point. A green velvet-clad room displays some of Beardsley’s best-known works, leading into a stark white photographic studio, filled with 10 photographs capturing Walker’s witty take on Beardsley’s masterpieces.

A further room, Handle with Care, takes inspiration from the work of the V&A’s textile conservators who care for the museum’s world-leading fashion and textiles collection. Here, Walker’s pictures of Karen Elson, James Crewe and Sgàire Wood are displayed alongside a dress from Alexander McQueen’s 2009 The Horn of Plenty collection, partially wrapped in protective fabric. The scene reimagines Walker’s first encounter with the dress when he visited The Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion.

Towards the end of the exhibition, visitors enter a pastel-hued room reminiscent of a grand country house. A film projection flickers within a vast fireplace and the walls are hung with multiple portraits inspired by Edith Sitwell’s clothing and jewellery in the V&A’s collection. This shoot with Tilda Swinton, herself a distant relative of Sitwell, took place at the family’s manor house, Renishaw Hall. As well as recognisable faces such as Swinton and Karen Elson, Walker’s new pictures are populated by a diverse cast of up-and-coming performers and models, celebrating beauty in all its forms.

Beyond the exhibition, several of Walker’s film installations appear throughout the museum’s permanent galleries, including the Tapestries Gallery and Norfolk House Music Room. The Modern Media Gallery in the V&A’s Photography Centre will screen his newest film, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a ballet performed by dancers from the Michael Clark Company in costumes inspired by paper dolls in the V&A Museum of Childhood. Walker rewrote the original Hans Christian Andersen tale to create a moving gay love story, narrated by actress Gwendoline Christie.

About Tim Walker
Extravagant staging and romantic motifs characterise Tim Walker’s unmistakable style. Born in England in 1970, his interest in photography began at the Condé Nast library in London, where he worked with the Cecil Beaton archive for a year in the late 1980s. After a BA Honours degree in Photography at Exeter College of Art, Walker worked as a freelance photographic assistant in London. He then moved to New York City as a full-time assistant to the renowned American photographer Richard Avedon.

When Walker returned to England, he initially concentrated on portrait and documentary commissions for newspapers and, aged only 25, he shot his first fashion story for Vogue. He has photographed for the British, Italian, and American editions of Vogue ever since, as well as for leading fashion and style titles such as W, i-D, AnOther and LOVE Magazine.

In recent years, Walker has embraced moving film. His first short film, The Lost Explorer, was premiered at Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and went on to win Best Short Film at the Chicago United Film Festival in 2011. Walker’s acclaimed publications include Pictures (2008), Story Teller (2012), The Granny Alphabet (2013, in collaboration with Lawrence Mynott and Kit Hesketh-Harvey), and The Garden of Earthly Delights (2017). He received the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator from The British Fashion Council in 2008 and the Infinity Award from The International Center of Photography in 2009. In 2012, Walker received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society.

About Shona Heath
One of Britain’s leading set designers and creative directors, Shona Heath is behind some of the most inventive sets crafted for magazine editorials, advertising campaigns and fashion shows. Her creative collaboration with Tim Walker spans almost 20 years. Since graduating from Fashion Design at Brighton University in 1997, her portfolio has progressed beyond the traditional definitions of set design, to encompass costume design, film making, installations and exhibition design.

Heath works with many contemporary photographers including Craig McDean, Inez and Vinoodh, Paolo Roversi and Jackie Nickerson and has collaborated with luxury fashion houses including Dior, Hermès, Jo Malone, Marni, Prada, and Valentino. Her artistic, editorial and commercial credits include Vogue, AnOther Magazine, Dazed & Confused, Pop and Modern Matter. She has also lent her unique vision to create stunning installations and window displays around the world including Tim Walker’s The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Noordbrabants Museum in 2017.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is the latest in the V&A’s series of major photography exhibitions, including Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century (2016), Julia Margaret Cameron (2015), and Horst: Photographer of Style (2014).

Tickets will go on sale on 13th June 2019.


Galleries 38a and 38
Victoria and Albert Museum,
Cromwell Road,


Website: https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/tim-walker

Top picture copyright: Karen Elson, Sgaire Wood & James Crewe. Fashion: The Row, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vacarello, Daniela Geraci, Sarah Bruylant hat, Molly Goddard. London, 2018 © Tim Walker Studio.