Enter photographer Tim Walker’s fantastical world at the V&A

Image maker, explorer, wanderer, dreamer – Tim Walker’s photography is about elaborate staging and romantic motifs. He creates fairy-tale worlds, magical sets, then turns them on their heads. Spanning some 25 years, his is a fascinating body of work captured in an enchanting exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Tim Walker V&A (C) Design Talking
Tim Walker at the V&A (c) Design Talking

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ is as much about Walker’s work as his relation to the gallery hosting this exhibition – for he has formed an intimate conversation with the V&A. Walker once called the museum ‘a place for dreams’, noting that the eclectic collection here has long resonated with him. ‘The V&A is the most inspiring place in the world,’ says one of the most successful fashion photographers of his generation.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things (c) V&A

For 25 years Walker has photographed models, celebrities and artists. His work appears in Vogue, W, i-D, AnOther and LOVE. He certainly has some favourite muses – Tilda Swinton features frequently and the photographs of the actress are some of his most powerful.

This is the largest-ever exhibition of Walker, though don’t expect a straightforward retrospective. There are plenty of his well-known photos here, but more exciting are the new works informed by the V&A’s collection. In preparation, Walker spent a year exploring the archives, rummaged through the maze of the V&A’s 145 galleries. He scaled the roof of the west London site, and the labyrinth of Victorian passages below in search of arts, ideas and objects to inspire a new body of work.

Tim Walker, 'Tilda Swinton', Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, 2018 (c) Tim Walker Studio
Tim Walker, ‘Tilda Swinton’, Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, 2018 (c) Tim Walker Studio

Amongst his finds are stained-glass windows, vivid Indian miniature paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations, golden shoes, and a 65-metre-long photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry. This curious collection, also on display, have informed his narrative to form ten of the main installations in the exhibition.

Walker believes what happens in his artificial, staged worlds have to seem as real as possible for the photograph to be believable, and to resonate with us on a visceral level. His is, therefore, a very human brand of fantasy. Yet these are grand ideas and the complex production requires creative help. For the V&A, Walker worked with one of his frequent collaborators, the set designer Shona Heath, to form these ethereal settings.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things (c) V&A

‘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,’ says Walker. ‘For me, beauty is everything. I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries that society has created, to enable more varied types of beauty and the wonderful diversity of humanity to be celebrated.’ Preparing for this exhibition, he admits, has pushed him into new territories. ‘It is very exciting, and I’m at a stage in my life where I feel brave enough to do that.’

Access to a decent smartphone and an Instagram account has made photographers out of many of us. And we need talents like Tim Walker to remind us all that great image-making isn’t a matter of a good lens and photoshop skills. Timeless photographs – from Man Ray to Lee Miller to Cecil Beaton (whose work inspired Walker) and Richard Avedon (for whom he was an assistant) are about constructing images, choreographing a stage, narrating a story. These are moving images captured in a still moment.

Ultimately, ‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ is a meditation on the beauty of the imagination. And much like the V&A, each room unravels a new and wondrous world.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is on at the V&A from 21 September 2019 – 8 March 2020

Guy Bourdin: Image maker

French fashion photographer and artist Guy Bourdin rose to fame in the 1970s for his provocative work. His first major retrospective in the UK, Guy Bourdin: Image-Maker at Somerset House, sets out to capture the 40-year career of this enigmatic creative from Man Ray’s protégé to famed photographer.

In Bourdin’s fashion photography the product is secondary to the image. He almost decorates the space around his models – his images are concerned with this backdrop, the stage.

The stills are meticulously choreographed. There is a perceived narrative, creating tension between the subject and the backdrop. This, combined with his brilliant use of vivid almost hyperreal colours, makes for a fantastically theatrical impact that is at once stylish and playful… and in some cases pretty evocative.


The show exhibits many previously unpublished works from his 1955 to 1987 editorial and advertising fashion shoots for Vogue and Charles Jourdan, as well as rarely seen paintings and sketches.

Guy Bourdin: Image-Maker is at Somerset House in London until 15 March 2015

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Horst: a magician with light

‘Electric Beauty’ are four black and white photographs taken by Horst P Horst in 1939. They are a satirical comment on the futility of extreme modern beauty treatment, fashionable in the 1930s, at a time when the world was on the brink of war.

We see the model undergo various bizarre procedures, yet she seems blissfully unaware – in one she is even wearing a creepy mask – of the danger of electrocution. The sinister atmosphere is further enhanced by an enlarged projection in the background of Hieronymus Bosch’s surreal Temptation of St Anthony.

These photographs reflect Horst’s intelligent and complex relationship with photography. They also reveal how he used light and shadow to sculpt his photographs. Horst: Photographer of Style at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is a scholarly study of the career of the photographer who worked not just in fashion but in art, design and theatre. Exhibition curator Susanna Brown calls him a magician with light.

Horst studied furniture design in Hamburg and worked for the architect Le Corbusier in Paris – his precise compositions and graphic aesthetic were perhaps a result of his design background. He joined Vogue in 1931, shooting over 90 covers and collaborating with the likes of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. He also had close connections with the Surrealists, and it is in this room where some of his more intriguing, and at times witty, portraits hang.

We particularly enjoyed the portrait of Dali entitled ‘Dali Dreaming of Mediation’ from 1943. The manipulation of light gives it an almost ethereal quality, something that Dali would no doubt have enjoyed.

Horst introduced some of these surrealist elements into his fashion photography so that not one feels like a standard classic fashion shoot. In his campaign for Cartier, for instance, classic diamond rings are juxtaposed in the model’s hair.

Or for the American Vogue cover in 1941, he has the athletic model in a bathing suit balancing a beach ball on her feet – the play of light here is really magical. It also shows how effortlessly he transitioned to colour photography in the 1940s.

Then there are his memorable photographs such as the 1939 portrait of a model shot from behind, her body hugged by a Mainbocher corset. The exhibition reveals his initial sketches prior to the shoot that reveal how meticulously he staged each and every shot. We also see the two portraits side-by-side; one of the original by Horst that saw the laced up garment slightly loose on the models figure, the other the touched up version for Vogue with the corset perfectly glued on. Horst said he preferred the flawed version. So do we.

Nicky Haslam, who worked with him at Vogue in the 1960s, said Horst saw ‘the innate glamour in people… the glamour of personalities rather than the glamour of name’. He didn’t care so much about fashion, the labels, but concerned himself with the image. This could explain how he was able to create some of the most memorable fashion photographs of the twentieth-century. And Horst: Photographer of Style truly captures the spirit of this inspiring artist.

Horst: Photographer of Style is at the V&A from 6 September 2014 until 4 January 2015.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 

Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Book review: Deborah Turbeville

Deborah Turbeville has for many years been a great source of inspiration for my work and collections.  Our design studio walls at GharaniStrok were plastered with inspirational images of which Turbeville held a strong presence.

They included The Bathhouse (1975) – one of my favourites – as well as Nova (Clevedon, London 1973) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, shot in an image reminiscent of a turn of the century Chaplinesque heroine.

Turbeville, whose work first appeared in Vogue in the mid-70s, went on to become one of the most influential figures in contemporary fashion photography. She has continued to produce fashion stories that seek to blur the boundaries between commercial fashion and fine art photography.

There is a collection that can be designed from each of her shoots – the mood, the scene, a story like a collection.  I love the rough backdrops and distressed grey tones concrete and barren. They are cold in an alluring enigmatic poetical way. The rejected wedding gowns of princess Diana in 1980, for instance, conjure up such a ghostly sad feeling.

Turbeville has a unique style that is so raw, moody, sexy, grainy, and sophisticated that invites and intrigues. Each picture could be a frame of a movie or an illustration. The backdrop, lighting and dark eeriness captures its audience like no other.

She has the power to draw you into her weird yet wonderful world capturing a moment in time that cannot be placed as old or new – instead they are simply timeless.

She wrote of her own work: ‘Perhaps the most interesting thing about my photographs is that they are a little bit of an enigma; they are hard to place.’

Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures is the first book devoted solely to her work. It includes a comprehensive collection of photographs including The Bathhouse series for American Vogue, and the psychologically charged Woman in the Woods series of 1977 for Italian Vogue, along with numerous fashion shoots for Karl Lagerfeld, Comme des Garçons, and other designers.

Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Picture By Deborah Turbeville with foreword by Franca Sozzani is published by Rizzoli New York.

Guest blogger Nargess Gharani

The Wapping Project curated an exhibition of Deborah Turbeville’s work at Donna Karan in Conduit Street, London in 2011. Read more here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

 All rights and labelled images are covered by ©


Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures

‘Perhaps the most interesting thing about my photographs is that they are a little bit of an enigma; they are hard to place,’ wrote Deborah Turbeville on her evocative photography.

To celebrate the work of this visionary American fashion photographer, The Wapping Project has organised an exhibition of her work in London that aims to blur the boundaries between commercial fashion and fine art photography.

Tainted beauty is at the core of Turbeville’s work – she had a taste for damaged goods. The haunted faces of street women getting by, of faded aristocrats in their opulent surroundings enable Turbeville to construct her dark narratives.

Turbeville seeks out and finds sullied, secret settings to stage her dramas. Her silhouette can be spotted sliding through the secluded woodlands, colossal bath houses, and the desolate streets that surround her three homes in Mexico, Russia and New York.

Post-production is an integral part of her photographic process tormenting her negatives with masking tape, scratches and sepia stains, and consciously destroys the original shot, transforming it into a grainy and seemingly worn out image and creating the highly prized and widely collected work.

Turbeville rose to prominence with her Bathhouse series, shot for American Vogue in 1975. These fashion photographs of languid, willowy, scantily clothed women were revolutionary at the time. Arresting and unsettling, Turbeville took the viewer into the core of a private chamber where the models seemed to be captives, aware of their photographer, and aware of us.

Her distinctive soft focus and pointillist style led to commissions by Jackie Onassis who asked her to photograph the unseen Versailles, photographic essays for Harper’s Bazaar and W Magazine and shoots for Italian, French, Russian, British and American Vogue. She continues to work full-time on personal projects and a wide number of commercial commissions.

Curated by The Wapping Project’s Jules Wright, the exhibition at Donna Karan’s Mayfair flagship store showcases Turbeville’s celebrated poetic grace and cinematic vision working with designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Comme des Garçons. It also presents her photographic essays for Harper’s Bazaar,  W Magazine and shoots for Italian, French, Russian, British and American Vogue.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures is at Donna Karan in Conduit Street, London from 8 September 2011 for a six week. All the works featured in the exhibition will be for sale.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©