Tim Walker has a way of capturing emotion and personality in an obscure way, bringing imagination to reality. Last year he exhibited at Somerset House, bringing out a book Storyteller to coincide with the show. We love his imagery, and found a great interview he did with Harper Bazaar, here are a few snipits from it to give you an idea of his inspiration and process…
Tell us about your work?
I do a lot of portraiture now. It’s my biggest challenge; you can’t rely on set design. You’re liberated and have to just work with the theatricality of the person, be it John Cleese or Lee McQueen. Your aim as a photographer is to get a picture of that person that means something. Portraits aren’t fantasies; they need to tell a truth. You are dabbling in their character and you have to persuade someone to play with you and their identity. It’s a very different exercise; it’s the antithesis of being on set. The portrait of a person who has not had a revelation about themselves is irrelevant.
How would you draw out the essence of a person?
Research is key. I did a portrait of David Attenborough the other day, I’ve been fascinated by him since I was a child and everything he represents. But how do you photograph a man like that? After speaking to him, he told me about he was in love with an egg – the biggest egg ever laid by a bird – and after we knew that, we got the sense of play you need. Everyone’s theatrical deep down, even if they don’t know it – and it all comes out with research.
The element of play you refer to, it seems so intrinsic to a Tim Walker shot – do you agree? Is that how you see your work?
Fantasy isn’t something I put into the pictures; I don’t try and inject them with a sense of play. But it’s about being an honest photographer; a photograph is as much of a mirror of the photographer as it is the subject. A lot of links and inspiration come from my childhood and my reluctance to give it up. You lose a lot as you mature, but if you lose it completely you couldn’t possibly be a photographer – you need that sense of curiosity.
Tell us about the shot that never happened… Have you ever had a brilliant idea that you just couldn’t realise?
Yes, did you know there is an elephant that swims in Indonesia underwater? I wanted to do a couture shoot of a girl swimming underwater with this elephant. But in the end we couldn’t do it because the clothes were too valuable. I thought maybe swimwear could work, but then it would have looked like the National Geographic.
And are there ambitions you want to achieve?
When you work in photography, you freeze everything. But on the shoot there is so much movement and sound, so the idea of making something that’s moving is very appealing. I’ve made some shorts already, but I would love to do a feature length film. I’m just still searching for the perfect plot. When people sit in a dark cinema with a flickering film, they give themselves to a plot; they need more than just a mood or a vision. If you miss the story, the film falls flat on its face.