Saturday, 17 July 2010

Close up: Tim Walker's Dress Lamp Tree

Welcome to Tim Walker's world...

'Vogue Pantomime'

...fantastical, theatrical and intriguing, it is not a world familiar to you or I (at least, not in our conscious lives). In an increasingly commercial, PR-led industry, Walker subverts expectations, allowing his imagination to outshine the ‘fashion’ in his fashion shoots. That’s not to say Walker’s images aren’t consequently more striking, or extraordinary showcases for clothes. Indeed, covetable endorsement is evident through repeat commissions from Vogue, Vanity Fair et al. Even so, Walker reminds us that fashion doesn’t exist in isolation. His images evoke a sense of history and place, reference culture, tell stories and provoke debate. Perhaps this skill has led Walker into filmmaking: his debut feature The Lost Explorer, is currently in production. 

One image demonstrating Walker's rebellious, evocative artistry is Dress Lamp Tree, below. Commissioned by Vogue L’uomo in 2002 and inspired by a shop which lit dresses from above, this photograph is unmistakably Walker.

Tim Walker - The Dress Lamp Tree, England 2002
Tim Walker's Dress Lamp Tree
A beautifully bold, aged Oak tree stands slightly off-centre (symmetry is too conventional for Walker), bearing illuminated dresses from its branches which reach out to welcome you, the viewer. The curvature of the twisted trunk and invitingly lit pathway guide eyes around the image. Succumb to this shapely composition and you can almost sense movement as the dresses rotate on an imaginary carousel.  Appealing to the surrealist within us and invoking Vogue inspiration Cecil Beaton, Walker creates a fairytale-like mirage from which you won’t want to wake. The dreamy dark-blue sky and self-contained glow of each dress lamp (like a child’s bedside lamp that stays on throughout the night) suggest a magical world which could be ‘switched off’ at any time. Any nightmarish quality is surpassed by Walker’s thematic coupling of childish fantasy with adult-friendly drama. The idea that somewhere dresses/clothes are growing on trees (because money certainly isn’t) is universally appealing for children, women or Vogue L’uomo’s male readers.

Cecil Beaton, Miss Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star, 1928

(One of Cecil Beaton's fairytale-like images)
Central to Walker’s oeuvre is nostalgia for a past, rural life. Now a Londoner, his childhood was spent playing in and photographing Devon countryside. Alien to fast-paced city backdrops, the tranquil scene in Dress Lamp Tree could signify a ‘lost’ Britain, as could the corsets (also holding the lamps in place). What transforms Walker’s personal vision into ‘high-fashion’, is his use of clothing in a theatrical, visually exciting way, something designers/stylists lust after. And, to Vogue’s delight, Walker has created an enduring, even timeless image. We can all recall childhood stories of secret gardens and ‘Lewis Carroll’ wonderlands (his film is about a girl who finds an explorer at the bottom of her garden). The image won't date, because it doesn't feature any models; there are also varying dress styles by seemingly unnamed designers. Consequently, the viewer celebrates fashion for fashion's sake, but only after travelling through Walker's deliciously imaginative world. Interestingly, Walker’s juxtaposition of ‘nature’ vs. ‘man-made’ is as relevant now (Peter Pilotto, Zac Posen, Chanel 2010/2011), as in 2002 when the ‘fur debate’ would soon reignite. 

Some wonderfully whimsical Walker to leave you with:

Tim Walker mattress image259596441_be5610cc07Lily Cole meets Alice in Wonderland, Tim Walker

Images: 1) Telegraph, 2), 4), 5), 6) la dolce vita, 3) Miss Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star, 1928, Victoria and Albert Museum

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