Tim Walker - "Story Teller" exhibition at Somerset House

Walker’s images tell a story, they blur the boundaries between the real and the fantasy. His images are exquisite in colour and lighting and his ideas well executed. What makes Tim Walker really stand out as a photographer, is the fact he doesn’t rely on digital manipulation to create his images. Instead opting to work with a close team of very talented set designers and model makers to transform that fantasy into a reality. According to the photographer, the camera “is simply a box put between you and what you want to capture”. So the exhibition at Somerset House had a lot to live up to in my eyes, especially as I was left a little disappointed by his previous exhibition at the Design Museum back in 2008.

Wednesday night (17/10/12) saw Mulberry (the sponsor) throw the opening of the 'Story Teller' exhibition. Guests included Tim Burton and wife Helena Bonham-Carter, Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne. Guests were greeted with music by a string quartet and later on featured a live DJ set from Friendly Fires. Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to get an invite but had a pleasant experience nonetheless without the paparazzi and rubbing shoulder’s with the non-famous on a crisp, cold Sunday afternoon.

As I walked into the first room, I was instantly greeted by a giant plane prop from one of his shoots with the corresponding photos surrounding it all around the walls. As all the rooms were fairly small, it made the experience a bit more personal. I much preferred this to the vast space left at the Design Museum. You could really take in the scale of the props and empathise with the models, how they must have felt in such a magical environment. Be it a swan boat, a giant wasp playing an instrument or a huge snail climbing a corner of the wall.

The exhibition was a mix of editorials, personal work, props and portraits. In construct to his outlandish editorials, the portraits are shot against a simple white background. Yet they still manage to hold on to his trademark wit and playfulness through quirky poses but slightly vacant doll–like expressions of the models.

Tim himself seems to narrate the exhibition as you follow his quotes explaining his romantic notions of imagination spiraling around the walls like snakes and ladders. I don’t think I could chose a favourite room or piece as Im such a big fan but I could chose my least favourite. It would have to be the giant doll at the end. Being one of the props that’s been talked about the most (it took 20 wigs just to make the hair), I felt the positioning of it was very awkward. It hovers over you in the corner just before the exit, with a member of Somerset House watching your every move. It feels like it’s been forgotten about and being watched made me want to leave as soon as possible. I was also slightly irritated that the credits for the images included the model, location and clothes used but not the stylist or set designer. Possibly a clever way to get you to buy the book afterwards. However those are probably my only negative comments, especially considering the exhibition is free of charge.

Do look out for a series of special events in conjunction with the exhibition from “Spotlight Tours”, which will take visitors behind the inspiration of each image, to “Exhibitions on Film” – a selection of films that fit in with Walker’s signature surrealist style. Take note of the screening of “A Matter Of Life And Death’ on Saturday 3 November – an enchanting story of an RAF pilot who cheats death, or the ultimate family classic “The Wizard of Oz” showing on Saturday 8 December.

The exhibition will also include a series of workshops for all ages offering visitors the chance to meet and learn from some of the creatives and specialists that collaborate with Walker to create his stunning images, such as “Puppet Play Time with Andy Hillman” on Saturday 1 December, where you can build a giant animated puppet.

Even though Im very familiar with his works, I was delighted to come across some photos that I haven’t seen before and the props made me feel like a kid in a giant toy store. The curators really thought about the mix of old and new and making it fun and interesting for everyone – fashion lovers, daydreamers, culture buffs or someone just looking to escape a grey and cold autumn day for a couple hours.