Review by Paul Anderson •
Dark, decadent, distinctive, eccentric, extraordinary, fantastical, imaginative, magical, mischievous, opulent, playful, weird, wild: these adjectives have all been used by others to describe the photographic work of Tim Walker. And, quite happily, all of these apply to the work shown in his latest book, Shoot for the Moon. Walker, who as a photographer concentrates on the fashion world, applies his fertile imagination and excellent sense of design to this his most recent book.
Walker works to create his own contemporary and unique vision of beauty, while simultaneously addressing cultural issues that go beyond the normal purview of the fashion world. In a video clip produced for the V&A museum in London, Walker states that “All the shoots that we’ve done, they are attempts to communicate my encounters with the sublime.… Breaking down those parameters and those pigeon holes that society has created … creates the possibilities of a new type of beauty. And that’s why I welcome all the questions of gender and difference, and I think the more variety and surprises that humanity can throw at a photographer and I can celebrate the better for me.”
Indeed, his subjects range from the standard female and male fashion models to senior citizens, people of color, gender-bending models, and even an exquisite Japanese doll. He treats his models with respect, and by doing so reveals their inner beauty.
The images in the book cover a wide range of emotional tones, including somber shoots in the English and Japanese countryside’s, elegant ballroom scenes, or images with a distinctly dark feel. Indeed, there is an emphasis on this ‘darker’ side throughout the book, but those are nicely balanced by others with a lighter feel. One of these lighter images, in a rather mischievous mood, shows London milliner Stephen Jones in a pink Scottish tweed suit.
Walker has a very distinctive yet eclectic style. Sets are often confined to a small three-sided rectangular space or a corner, with the model(s) pushed well back into it. A set can draw attention to itself by revealing space outside of the set proper, or the camera can reveal ragged set corners and edges, or the light stands and reflectors can intrude, or bits of costume or set debris can litter the floor. All this provides a slightly chaotic feeling to a scene, which can look a bit claustrophobic. As an example, a reflector peeks into the scene from the left in the image of Stephen Jones.
To add to his style, Walker often shoots from a low angle, waist-high or slightly higher, creating a child’s eye view of a scene. The models look down on the viewer, creating additional tension. He pays particular attention to model’s faces, typically employing elaborate makeup, facial jewelry, bold hair coloring, and hats of fantastical design.
The artistic design of the book is generally well executed. Images on facing pages are nicely matched, and images with common themes are grouped together on consecutive pages. In several instances, facing book pages show the same well-known person in contrasting and unexpected poses. Credit goes to Tim Walker to see and create these scenes. One example is a pair of images of well-known actor Tommy Lee Jones, who has been cast in many roles, including villain, lawman, military figure, spy, and convicted criminal. Yet, Tim Walker has posed him with flowers, which is quite revealing.
One of the noteworthy groupings in the book are five images shot for the 2018 Pirelli calendar, which feature the rich imagination of the photographer. The images show various scenes from the Lewis Carrol classic Alice in wonderland, which has an all-black cast featuring “… protagonists from the worlds of fashion, movies, music, and even social activism …”. Two of these illustrations are included below.
The book is printed on various types of paper, from semi-gloss to matte. A handful of pages have colored gel inserts between selected pages. However, this reviewer found that some of the illustrations printed on the semi-gloss paper lacked good color saturation. Many of the costumes are colorful, yet the reproductions in the book do not do justice to what must be in the original film exposure or digital image file. One example is the reproduction on page 293 of Thando Hopa as the ‘Princess of Hearts’ from Alice in Wonderland, and Whoopi Goldberg as the ‘Royal Duchess’. This same image is available on Tim Walker’s web site. This version has noticeably higher saturation in the gown worn by Whoopi Goldberg. I can only imagine how much more satisfying it would be to view these images in a large format, in an art gallery setting, presented with the highest quality printing and lighting.
The book could benefit from a less-is-more approach. There are 238 illustrations in a book that weighs about 2.4 kg (5.2 lbs). Paging through the entire book at one sitting risks image overload, so this book is best taken in small doses. Perhaps it would have been a wiser choice to reduce the number of illustrations and put more resources into printing.
This book is full of images that are creatively and skillfully staged and photographed by a leading fashion photographer. The content is quite engaging, and pushes the boundaries of the genre.
Shoot for the Moon, Tim Walker
Artist/Photographer: Tim Walker; Born in England and based in London, U.K.
Essays: Various contributors, including Tim Walker
Publisher: Thames & Hudson, London, England, copyright 2019
Softcover, 348 pages including transparent colored gels, 238 illustrations, printing by Graphicom, Italy
Book design: Irma Boom
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