There’s a skeleton of a giant swan boat matter-of-factly sitting in the centre of a room, spitfire wings jutting out of the walls, a ten-foot dolly looming in the corner surveying the visitors with a menacing eye. Welcome to Story Teller at Somerset House.
Tim Walker doesn’t do things by halves and the exhibition shouts his message loud and clear as visitors enter off the austere quad of Somerset House. A pair of airplane wings slice through the airily-lit space and initiate the viewer into the narrative style of the show, reflecting his own fashion photography. A second room continues with the fantastical offerings and another of Walker’s props, the star of his 2010 photograph ‘Fantasia on a Nautical Theme’ sailing into the centre of the space and providing the first point of orbit for visitors to look over the extensive collection of Walker’s arresting images.
The work in the exhibition evokes the that of visionary French fashion photographer Jean-Paul Goode. Walker’s photographs, stacked in crates and padded with hay, allude to Goode’s work of the late 90s and continuing his narrative of animated toys. There is also an interesting insight into the process of the photographer putting his sprawling narratives into use, with film footage of his shoot with the Monty Python members and their antics in his studio in London.
Images like ‘Vivienne Westwood in Coral Tiara with Roses’ (2009) are immediately striking, teamed with more playful series like ‘John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones pipe-dream in London’ as part of the recent editorial for Vanity Fair. The collected images and props outline the light-hearted and explorative nature of the photographer himself roaming within extrapolated universes. They can also be seen in his collaborative works with the BBC, like ‘The Lost explorer’ (2010) and the resulting book written in collaboration with Patrick McGrath, a foray into the world seen by a child on her own imaginary adventures, plucked from the memory of Walker himself.
Today Somerset House also sees the opening of ‘Valentino. Master of Couture’ the vast collection of the renowned Italian designer’s garments, as well as Tate Modern’s major photography retrospective of the work of William Klein and Daido Moriyama (open until 20th January 2013). It’s a challenge it lives up to by holding its own with some inventive curation and the sheer strength of the work it encompasses, spanning the career of one of the most influential image makers working today.