Cecil Beaton’s notion of Englishness has always held great appeal for me. It is most definitely the blowsy other-end of my taste spectrum from Ravilious and Bawden. Too many soft focus filters and roses really. But the story telling, the visual props and references, the colours, the drawings. It’s all so very fashion.
A man who carries a debt to Beaton – Tim Walker – has an exhibition at the Design Museum at the moment. Eagerly awaited by me, as I have plenty of torn-out spreads by Walker in my scrapbooks. His shoots, and the Shona Heath props and sets that often accompany them, have a beautiful other-worldliness to them. Nothing gritty or heroin-chic here.
But what holds my attention in a magazine doesn’t necessarily, it seems, hold it in a museum. Context, in this case, is most definitely everything. The quality of the images in the Walker exhibition just don’t stand up to close examination or large reproduction. It is as if the dreamy, drowsy story-book intimacy of his magazine shoots has had the door flung open and an unkind, over-strong sunlight has been let in on them.
It’s difficult for me to criticise this one, being a fan. The space Walker is showing in at the museum is a difficult white space and they have tried to give Walker a traditional hang for his work, which weakens the impact, I think. I know it is all part of being taken seriously in one’s career, your first big show in a major museum. But I didn’t feel any closer to Walker’s work after having seen this show, just disappointed.
The best bits of the exhibition were where the convention cracked and they showed some of the wonderful props from his shoots (see here a detail of a human-sized glove), his notebooks and a film of a Vogue shoot. But for the rest; it lacks a sense of discovery, wit and beauty of the unexpected. And those qualities are, for me, what Walker’s work is all about.
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