It's been four years since the first major exhibition on Tim Walker's work at the Design Museum and it's high time we were treated to another one courtesy of Mulberry and Somerset House. Tim Walker: Story Teller opens tomorrow in the East Wing galleries at Somerset House and feels like a natural sequel to that first exhibition. Whereas at the Design Museum, we were presented with itty bitty paraphernalia – sketchbooks, little snapshots and a thorough insight into process; here at Somerset House, we are confronted with gigantic props, a main component of many of Walker's shoots. They are installed in each of the nine rooms of the exhibition, constantly reminding us of the elaborate and ambitious scale that Walker constructs in his shoots. There's no digital fakery in his work. By harnessing some of the best set designers, make-up artists, hair stylists and of course with the help of the fashion editors as well as the physical location itself, Walker painstakingly creates other worlds for us, the reader to immerse into. Here at Somerset House, we can almost walk on set into Walker's worlds – Agyness Deyn stands before a mound of sand reminding us of that wonderful shoot in Namibia, a creepy 15ft high doll looms over you taking you into that game of sinister tag between Lindsay Wixson and female Chucky or a life-size replica of a Spitfire fighter plane crashing through the gallery as it did in an elaborate drawing room.
Telling you guys of my love of Walker's work is going to sound like a broken record frankly. There aren't enough superlatives to describe his photography. The mostly female audience at the press preview this morning were literally swooning and hanging on Walker's every word. Suffice to say, for most onlookers, they're images that make you dream but for Walker, it's the reverse process of making "daydreams into photographs". "The whole point of the show is that people can see the bridge between the page and the magazine. A lot of the time, people look at the photograph in the magazine and they just don't understand how you got there," explained Walker as he guided us around the exhibition this morning. We may never understand how Walker and his many collaborators got there but who cares when the results will forever be seared into your brain.
The main thing that struck me about this exhibition was the bigger emphasis on Walker's portraiture work. Yes, there are the elaborate set pieces and the accompanying props which grab your attention but the simplicity of some of his portraiture is just as striking. "I think in photography you're always trying to challenge yourself and keep yourself alive. In the end, doing the total opposite to those big set pieces is a simple portrait and how you can make that work. That idea of the table and white background – it's been done since the birth of photography so how do you add something new to it?"
Even with that tried and tested portrait formula, there are Walker-isms that permeate the portraiture – the arrangement of bowler hats, pipes and tobacco in a shoot of the five remaining Monty Python Flying Circus cast, the placement of a hairbrush and the stark image of that infamous red hair belonging to Grace Coddington or the way Alber Elbaz hides behind one of his frothily pink Lanvin confections.
In fact, one of Walker's favourite images from the exhibition is indeed one of his simpler portraits, taken of East London scenester Nathaniel Lyles holding a white carnation. "He's got such an innate sense of fashion that is unknown. To be able to perpetuate that on film is so powerful. It's the tenderness of youth that I find quite appealing."
Walker's fascination and inspiration from cinema will also be showcased as there will be screenings of some of his favourite films such as The Red Shoes and The Wizard of Oz. I think there will also be a chance to see his first feature film The Lost Explorer too (although the date hasn't been announced yet), which I've not yet seen. Walker's foray into film work is something that I'm personally really excited about. He says he is working on a new film project, although he's reluctant to reveal too many details and understandably, he's taking his time, exploring this new medium. "The skills that I learnt in photography don't necessarily apply to film."
Story Teller (and the accompanying book published by Thames & Hudson and edited by Ruth Anzel) is a brilliant summation of Walker's prolific body of work but also a reminder that without those key collaborators and the people sitting for his portraits, the equation would be incomplete. Set designers such as Andy Hillman (who designed the layout of the exhibition) and Shona Heath, fashion editors such as Kate Phelan and Edward Enninful and publications like British Vogue, Vogue Italia and more recently, W magazine that have nurtured Walker's work. Walker pulls the strings, engineering every meticulous detail to get that final shot though, proving there are no shortcuts to pictures as magnificent as his.
Tim Walker: Story Teller, supported by Mulberry opens 18th October and is on until 27th January 2013 at the East Wing Galleries, Somerset House in London. It's FREE. No excuses if you're in town.