In September 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum invites visitors to experience the fantastical imagination of Tim Walker, one of the world’s most inventive photographers. Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is the largest exhibition of Walker’s pictures to date. It celebrates his extraordinary contribution to image-making over the last 25 years and the inspirational 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.
Tim Walker said, “To me, the V&A has always been a palace of dreams – it’s the most inspiring place in the world. The museum’s collection is so wide and eclectic, and I think that’s why it resonates with me so much. Many of the objects that I saw during my research at the museum made my heart swell and I wanted to try to create a photograph that would relate not only to the physical presence and beauty of that object, but also to my emotional reaction to it. Each new shoot is a love letter to an object from the V&A collection, and an attempt to capture my encounter with the sublime.”
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, including stylists and creatives Katy England, Amanda Harlech and Jerry Stafford, and hair and make-up artists Malcolm Edwards, Julien d’Ys, isshehungry and Sam Bryant, among others.
The exhibition begins with 100 pictures from Walker’s previous projects and extracts from his Super 8 films, displayed in a sleek, white space. The first room of the exhibition displays 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.
Further, 10 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. Some of these themed rooms include Illuminations, Pen & Ink, Handle with Care, and others.
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.
The exhibition opens just under a year after the launch of Phase One of the V&A Photography Centre, a new space to showcase the museum’s world-class photographic holdings. The exhibition will be on view from September 21, 2019 to March 8, 2020.