How the V&A’s Collections Inspired Tim Walker’s New Exhibition

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Tim Walker, Cloud 9, Radhika Nair. Fashion: Halpern and Dolce & Gabbana. Pershore, Worcestershire, 2018© Tim Walker Studio

From an embroidered casket from the 17th century to an 18th-century lacquered snuffbox, Tim Walker: Wonderful Things features ten new series of photographs draw on objects from the V&A’s archive

Since the V&A revealed that Tim Walker: Wonderful Things would be the British photographer’s biggest exhibition yet, his fans have been waiting with bated breath for it to open. While there is a retrospective section at the beginning of the exhibition, which finally opens tomorrow, the majority of the show is focused on his new work: namely, ten new series created specifically for the exhibition. 

Walker was invited to pick ten objects from the V&A’s collections and make a series of images inspired by each one. Wonderful Things, therefore, features over 150 new photographs. “I spent a lot of time in what they call the archive at the V&A, in each different department with the curators. It was extraordinary, such a privilege and an education,” says the photographer, speaking to AnOther for our A/W19 issue. “So I just floated down those corridors, completely serendipitous; I spent a year, if not longer, wandering around. I went on this massive snoop, looking at everything. I then spent a year making photographs inspired by these objects.”

Shona Heath, the set designer and longtime collaborator of Walker’s, has designed the exhibition, creating immersive sets for each section, which offer an insight into the objects chosen by Walker and his subsequent photographs – from a ‘Chapel of Nudes’ (complete with a latex curtain at its entrance) dedicated to his recent exploration of the subject, to a giant scroll bearing Walker-lensed shots taped together, emulating a photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry. Here, we take a closer look at five of the objects Walker was drawn to from the V&A’s collections.

An embroidered casket from the 17th century

Walker expanded on how he was struck by this casket, created by a 15-year-old girl in around 1675, in AnOther Magazine A/W19. “That object pulsates with privacy and intimacy and detail,” he says. “It intrigues me because of time – because it’s so long ago and the amount of time people had, that a 15-year-old was that industrious and created this secret world for herself. It’s a very charged thing.” The subsequent shoot saw Heath recreate the casket’s intricate glass garden, and Walker shot James Spencer – “he’s very much about private worlds,” says Walker – presiding over the space in the place of the 17th-century teenager.

Stained glass windows from 16th-century Germany

A recreated chapel is one of the first sections you encounter in the exhibition. A scene of quiet domesticity depicted in a stained glass window dating back to 1520 struck Walker, and the subsequent photo shoot took cues from its striking colours: red, in particular, was chosen to recreate the feeling of warmth in the window scene, as the colour reminds Walker of his mother and childhood family home.

Aubrey Beardsley’s The Peacock Skirt

“I’ve always been seduced by the inky blackness, confidence and eroticism of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations,” says Walker. “I’ve known his work for years, but when I saw the prints close up, I could visualise them as photographs immediately.” Capturing the model Duckie Thot with her own shadow trailing around her sweeping figure, Walker paid homage to Beardsley’s daring works.

A watercolour of Krishna and Indra from 1590

Walker took advantage of a British summer heatwave in creating photographs inspired by the vibrancy of Indian storytelling, as seen in a vivid watercolour depicting an episode in the life of the Hindu god Krishna. Taking to the fields of Worcestershire, filled at that time with delphiniums, Walker photographed a glittering group of models in kaleidoscopic colours, echoing the watercolour’s colourful energy.

An 18th-century lacquered snuffbox

“As soon as I saw this [snuffbox] with a dragon on it, I visualised an empress walking her pet dragon at night and picking a flower that only blooms at full moon,” Walker explains of how a diminutive and intricately carved snuffbox sparked a darkly romantic, UV-lit photo shoot with model Ling Ling. In a section entitled Lil’ Dragon, the set that houses the images in Wonderful Things echoes this brooding atmosphere.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, from September 21, 2019 – March 8, 2020.