Down the Rabbit Hole: Inside the Tim Walker Show

Mona Tehrani went to the preview of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Tim Walker: Wonderful Things in London and describes her journey through Walker’s fantastical dreamland.

“Have you ever searched for the end of a rainbow, only to discover that it is an impossible quest?” This is how Susanna Brown, curator of photographs at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, opens the book that accompanies the new exhibition Tim Walker: Wonderful Things.

This is also how it feels inside the exhibition. The visitor embarks on a journey through photographer Tim Walker’s personal dreamland, stepping inside the fantastical world of his photographs. A journey through which we are guided by Walker himself – instead of a conventional curatorial voice, all rooms are narrated by Walker. “Making photographs, to me, is really a kind of dream state. As you tour your imagination, you want to photograph what you’re seeing,” he writes in the first room.


Photo: V&A Museum

Over the years, Tim Walker has been responsible for some of fashion’s most spectacularly imaginative imagery. The British photographer shot his first fashion story for British Vogue at the age of 25, going on to become a regular contributor to the publication as well as W and LOVE. The V&A show is not his first large-scale exhibition – his first was held back in 2008 at London’s Design Museum – but it is quite different to anything he has attempted before.

Those who are expecting a Tim Walker ‘best-of’ exhibition will find themselves mistaken. Instead, ten new photographic projects are entirely inspired by the “wonderful things” that have caught Walker’s eye in the V&A’s vast collection. The centuries-old artefacts are spun in an unmistakably Walker manner. A 17th century embroidered jewellery box parallels the safe space of a modern-day gay club – to both Walker and the show’s visitors, it makes a kind of sense.

Throughout the exhibition it’s hard not to feel like Alice falling through an endless rabbit hole into Wonderland. Sequences flash before your eyes, making you question if you are still in a museum or a strange feverous dream.

Photo: V&A Museum

You embark on your journey in what feels like a Gothic church, although the priests are Moncler-clad Michelin men while figurines of Jesus are substituted with ghostly neon visions of Grace Jones. Elsewhere, you find yourself in a technicolour jungle inspired by Walker’s love for all things Asian. The fantastical animals on display in film and as props are reminiscent of the Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat. It’s like a safari – wait for the pink tiger to jump out of the digital bushes.

You are lead seamlessly from sequence to sequence. Through a “Chapel of Nudes” and poet Edith Sitwell’s eccentric living room (she is portrayed by distant relative Tilda Swinton) straight into a strangely soothing nightmare in neon of monsters and mysterious empresses – a dragon looms overhead.

At the press preview, Walker himself is there to greet his media guests, including Anna Wintour. I lean in to catch a fragment of their conversation. “It’s so immersive,” she tells Walker enthusiastically. “Truly sensational.”

Photo: V&A Museum

“Art really does connect people,” Walker explains to me afterwards, beaming with excitement. “You’re moved by it now because I was moved by it when I chose it. People have the same experience.”

And moved people were. “I might cry, I feel so emotional,” Curator Susanna Brown says apologetically towards the end of a short speech, her voice already breaking. She excused herself to loud applause and sympathy from her audience.

Cut to the last sequence and again you find yourself as Alice in Wonderland – all tiny compared to the huge books that make up the final room. “There really are so many wonderful things,” is inscribed on one of the pages. And Tim Walker sees them all.

Photo: V&A Museum

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things, curated by the V&A’s Susanna Brown and designed by Shona Heath, runs until March 8 2020 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

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