Candy cane sweetness and disembodied heads lying amongst the other fallout from an apple tree. Clockwork models, giant jelly molds and snails suckered to the top corners of the room. Itch-inducing insects playing instruments inside a country house. Much has been made of fashion photographer Tim Walker’s connections to the world of fairytale, but less so of how his images are always genuinely tinged with creepiness.
The kind of creepiness, indeed, which Tim Burton used to specialize in during the days of Edward Scissorhands. Walker, unlike Burton, has never lost his transmission of the uncanny, the sinister edge of suburbia or the simplistic horror of a maggot gnawing through an apple.
The current exhibition at Somerset House, London, is delicious for two reasons. Firstly, for housing a feast of Walker’s photographs and secondly for being curated so damn well. In recent years, the curating of fashion and art exhibitions has fallen into two camps. Either the decadent excess of the V&A, for example their Cult of Beauty exhibition, in which the exhibition itself is as much as part of viewing experience as the objects on display or the ‘Have wall; will hang pictures’ practice more commonly found in the Tate or National Gallery. Somerset House demonstrates the possibility of a middle path in which a traditional mode of curating is subtly perverted – perfectly mirroring the ideas in Walker’s photography.
Tate Britain recently decided to tone down all wall captions in exhibitions to appear more open to viewer interpretations. Somerset House keeps them but lets the text bleed around corners or drip in arrows down from the ceiling. A final afterword from Walker fills a wall like a big blob of pop art, proudly full of the multiple exclamation marks grammar pedants would delete. These tiny makeovers to the wall texts make all the difference in aligning the exhibition space with the world in the photographs. Following words around a corner you walk right into the next photograph and find yourself taking tea with a honeybee.
Aside from the gingerbread trails of words, the other thing that lets you into Walker’s world are the plus-sized props spread throughout the exhibition. In the first room there is a boat headed by two huge swans and hanging from the ceiling in the corridor is the skeleton of a giant. A lot of things are oversized in Tim Walker Land, including the elongated models, frequently Malgosia Bela, Guinevere Van Seenus or Karlie Kloss, and Lindsey Wixon’s pumped up lips.
In the final room resides the ungainly giant doll, which once kicked Wixon across a barbed wire fence. Like Alice after she ate the cake, the doll is almost too tall for the room. With golden ringlets, googly eyes and a lispy-looking mouth she is the perfect example of why Walker makes you squirm.
However, the blurring of life inside and outside his photos is probably most intense when Agyness Deyn is spotted in a door way (fake) propped open by sand (real) but, alarmingly, herself: fake. The image behind the door was taken on location in Africa for Vogue and the gamine Deyn in a flapper era swimming costume is only a photograph. I suppose they would have had to pay her too much to fill up the space all of the time.
Tim Walker: Story Teller
18th October – 27th January 2013