Tag Archives: Tilda Swinton

The Surreal World of a Spellbinding Genius

24 Dec

Somerset House has been transformed into a veritable fairyland, a surreal world belonging to the magical stylings of Tim Walker.  Walker has always been fascinated by the make-believe since as a 19-year old intern at Vogue he established their Cecil Beaton Archive.  After completing his studies at the age of 25 he shot his first Vogue fashion story; the rest, as they say, is history.  He was the recipient of the second ‘Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator’ at the British Fashion Awards in 2008 and the following year he received an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in New York. His photos are instantly recognisable including many famous fashion campaigns such as those of Mulberry (who are supporting the exhibition), Hèrmes and Valentino.

Giant doll

Tim Walker, Giant doll kicks Lindsey Wixson, Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2011.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

The extravagant and dazzling exhibition seeks to replicate the photos.  The first room contains a life-sized Spitfire, a prop used for a 2009 Burberry shoot for Vogue starring Lily Donaldson.  Here, it has crashed and erupted through the fireplace.  There’s no slow start.  This is Walker – take it or leave it.


Tim Walker, Lily Donaldson and Blue Spitfire, Glemham Hall, Suffolk, 2009. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

The exhibition guides us through Walker’s collaborations with some of the biggest names in contemporary fashion and culture: Alber Elbaz sporting a pair of rabbit ears (fairy tales are frequently referenced); Karen Elson up against it with a giant crocodile; Agyness Deyn in the sand dunes of Namibia; Tilda Swinton in Iceland; Alexander McQueen and a memento mori of skull and cigarettes; Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton turning an Essex garden centre into a danse macabre; Stella Tennant in a pink cloud among the rhododendrons of an English country garden and a visitor from outer space who surprises a foxhunt in Northumberland.  Some of the scenes are a bit bizarre to say the least but they are not scary – in fact they are mesmerising.  Walker’s images are characteristically British – from the models and design to the background.

© 2009 Tim Walker. All rights reserved. Moral rights asserted.

Tim Walker, Stella Tennant and pink powder cloud, Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2007. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

As with the Spitfire, props from the photographs are brought into the gallery.  I, for one, love bringing props into exhibitions and so they were onto a winner here with me but, when busy, this can make the display seem cluttered.  In particular, the room with the giant swan is very difficult to navigate especially as all the cold skaters from the Somerset House ice rink are migrating inside, seeking warmth from anywhere, even an art gallery.  The wall labels are also quite amateurish and some are even peeling off – a shame considering how the rest of the show has been thought out.  The wall labels and quotes are printed on corners making you move with them – the photos aren’t straightforward and the display follows this.  Despite these flaws this is a really fabulous show where the new East Wing at Somerset House has truly found its feet .

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Skaters at Somerset House.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk

In this exhibition, we are transported to Walker’s world where his imagination comes alive. And what a world it is!  Walker shoots entirely in film – for him, the easy part is pointing and shooting and the camera ‘is simply a box put between you and what you want to capture’.  The magic, and his genius, lies in the designs of these amazing sets that show off his models and all their couture finery.  The team involved here includes hair and make-up artists, fashion stylists, costume fitters, model makers, set designers, builders, producers, painters, prop suppliers and models with Walker at the centre waving his magic wand.

Olga Shearer

Tim Walker, Olga Shearer on blue horse, Sennowe Park, Norfolk, 2007. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

Somewhat surprisingly, Walker’s preference when looking at this show is his portraits, favouring the stripped back contrast of the faces to his previous flamboyance.  He feels it’s time for something new but I find it very hard to believe he’s going to leave all this behind.  Who knows?  Let’s see.

Alexander McQueen

Tim Walker, Alexander McQueen with skull and cigarettes, Clerkenwell, London, 2009. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

Looking at Walker’s photographs feels as if we are somewhere else, in his own surreal land.  The soft focus, framing devices and clever lighting enhances this.  It is, in fact, the experience of viewing the photograph that stays with us longer than some of the specific images.  The works are an incredible cross between fashion, theatre, design and art.  They don’t have to come down in one place as they encapsulate all these things; and they encapsulate them faultlessly. 

And so it was time for me to journey to my own winter wonderland and don some skates at the Tower of London to be whisked away once more, this time onto the ice.


Tim Walker: Story Teller is at Somerset House until 27th January 2013, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

An Intimate Inside View – Simon Annand

24 Mar

I was fortunate to meet and assist Simon Annand during VAULT when he came to photograph the festival one night and I was able to experience first-hand his unique eye and skill at capturing the unseen.

Kindle Theatre’s The Furies at VAULT 2012. Image courtesy of Simon Annand.

His images truly reveal the intimacy and excitement of the festival showing performers at their peak, revelling in their characters and new relationships.  He shows atmosphere and emotion like no other.

Silent Opera at VAULT 2012. Image courtesy of Simon Annand.

Currently a selection of photographs from his book, The Half, is being exhibited at the Idea Generation Gallery.  The work shows the mystery of backstage theatre as Annand captures a moment in the final half-hour before curtain up when the performers are left in solitude, focusing on their performance.  This is the time when an actor becomes the character and enters into the psychological negotiation required for such a transformation to take place.  The portraits are remarkably intimate capturing a world that is not meant to be seen – the intense physical and mental preparation needed to work on stage.  There are nerves, excitement, anticipation, humour, happiness, terror showing the way ‘the half’ affects different people.

Cate Blanchett, Plenty, The Albery Theatre. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

The individuality of the actors is paramount and the juxtaposition of these photographs side-by-side shows off the diversity of their craft.  The photographs show the vulnerability of some of the most famous actors of our day as they prepare.  Annand’s works are in direct contrast to the posed and Photoshopped media images we are used to.

Daniel Craig, A Number, Royal Court Theatre, 1999. Own photograph.

Throughout Simon’s career, the dressing room and stage wings have always been his studio.  As you go into the exhibition, you can pick up a lovely piece of writing by Simon Callow where he describes their first meeting in 1983 when Annand asked if he could photograph him in the final half-hour. Callow agreed and, on seeing the results, said: ‘I see that he’s caught something I’ve never seen before in theatre photographs – not the sense of performance; I don’t think he’s very interested in that – but the inner life of the actor.’  Callow then commissioned Annand to go to Switzerland to photograph his first opera and feels ‘proud to have facilitated the admission of his uniquely watchful, taciturn presence into the secret life of the theatre, which he has recorded as no one else ever has.’

James McAvoy, Three Days of Rain, Apollo Theatre, 2009. Own photograph.

As well as photographs from his book, the exhibition also includes a selection of previously unseen colour works from British theatre and the London stage.

Amanda Holden, Shrek, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 2011. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

The gallery space here is fundamentally a large segmented reception area and doesn’t really do justice to the works.

Idea Generation Gallery. Own photograph.

Notwithstanding this, the works are entrancing.  At the push of a button, Annand is able to capture something magical.  These works are much more than mere snapshots.  The honesty of the photographs presents a hidden insight into the normally off-limits world of theatre.

Tilda Swinton, Mozart and Salieri, Almeida Theatre, 1989. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

Plus, the exhibition is also handily situated two minutes from The Albion, the perfect place for a pit stop!

Simon Annand: The Half is at the Idea Generation Gallery until 8th April, www.ideageneration.co.uk.

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