in conversation with tim walker

For the new issue of i-D, we teamed with British photographer Tim Walker to celebrate just some of the brilliant, inspiring young minds and talent working in London today.

by i-D Staff
12 April 2017, 1:10pm

Read: Get the first look at i-D's Creativity Issue!

Tim Walker's photography spans everything from fantastical, out of this world dreamscapes, to eloquent, heart-warming portraits; demonstrating an eye and talent unlike anyone else working today. Quintessentially British, when he's not traveling the world on a far-flung shoot, you can find him at his Bethnal Green studio dreaming up his next project with his brilliant team, a cup of tea, and his rescue dog, Stig. As a photographer, Tim is fascinated with the concept of "truth," something that might seem incongruous if you spend a moment lost in his fairytale world. This is the man, after all, who photographed a giant spaceship scaling a fence together with huntsmen, horses, and hounds; a lion prowling a dilapidated stately home with Edie Campbell; and a giant doll, complete with corkscrew blonde curls and baby blue dress, climbing a barbed wire fence trailing Lindsey Wixson. Yet the pursuit of truth and beauty is what drives him. Fascinated by people, and the myriad differences and experiences that make us unique, Tim's approach to his work is multi-layered and profound. He's specific and disciplined, yet overwhelmingly passionate; pouring as much love, time, and energy into a one-page portrait as he does a full-blown editorial.

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When Tim approached i-D at the end of last year, he was inspired by the new generation of London designers, artists, and musicians working without restraint to create their own creative ecosystem where freedom of expression and uncurbed creativity rules. It resonated with what we were discussing at i-D; the idea that in times of political unrest and uncertainty, it's creativity that inspires us, unites us, and pulls us through. So we joined forces, and together set out to shoot this project: a snapshot of just some of the brilliant, inspiring young minds and talent working in London today.

Look: Tim Walker's spectacular, fantastical, theatrical i-D archive.

Are you pleased with the project?
I'm really proud of it. It's a special piece of work for me because it's taught me a lot, and, as a photographer, you always want to learn more and continue your educational process. It's probably the same for you as a writer, it's so brilliant to research someone or something and learn something you didn't know before.

Putting together an issue is always a learning curve, because you're constantly meeting people from totally different walks of life.
I think that's all you want as a creative. You want to keep on meeting people. On our shoot together, Grace Coddington talked about the importance of youth and being with youth. She said you can be three generations older but there's still so much you can take from what the young are doing and it's so important to engage with what's going on. That's why I wanted to do this project; that was my motive, to connect myself.

Terry [Jones, founder of i-D] always used to say youth isn't an age, it's a state of mind and that i-D could be for a 16-year-old or a
66-year-old, it didn't matter.
I think that's a really interesting concept. Shooting this issue of i-D has been an amazing learning curve and eye opener for me. It's shown me the importance of staying connected to a youthful creativity.

Let's talk a bit about the thinking behind the project.
I came to you because I wanted to review what the next generation is doing. It was an exploration for me in terms of meeting people and seeing what's going on. I've been getting really worried about the concept of algorithms and predetermined choices and the fact that individuality and uniqueness appear to be on the way out. I was concerned that creativity was being attacked, in a generation way below me that I don't know about... I wanted to have an insight into what is going on with the computer generation.

Your idea struck a cord with me, because in times of uncertainty and political unrest, it's the arts that bring us together and ultimately pull us through. Why do you think creativity is so important in times of political upheaval?
Political turmoil always exaggerates creativity. Today, the computer is exploding and our need and our reliance on it is almost out of control. Politics is nuts, there's a lot of mistruth. If you go onto the computer, and ask it a question in Google, you're going to get a lot of unreliable, un-researched, unedited answers. Whereas, the ultimate truth in life and in history, is art and creativity. As Keats said, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' You cannot manipulate or lie in true art. When the world is questionable, it's a natural human response to seek out truth and look back to the most basic human expression of beauty. I think there will be an explosion of meaningful art over the next five, ten years. I can see it happening.

I hope so. To what extent were the people you photographed influenced by politics and what is happening in the world?
Pretty much 90% of the people we shot in this portfolio demonstrated political awareness. We're all becoming more political, and it's a good thing because we're waking up, and we're finally aware of how important truth is.

Do you think you have a responsibility as a photographer, both towards the people you photograph and the images you're putting out?
I think I have a huge responsibility as a photographer. It's something Collier Schorr discussed in The Female Gaze Issue of i-D. She talked about authorship and how an author of a photograph, a piece of writing or a piece of art, is only one individual's point of view. What we have to do now is ensure we have varied authors to make representation in the media more responsible.

What have been some of the biggest changes you've witnessed since you first started taking photographs?
There has been a huge shift in people's openness and honesty about who they are. Different genders and sexual orientations just didn't exist openly when I started out. You'd never talk about your sexuality. But now it's something that people feel comfortable enough to explore and it goes back to this concept of truth. What I've discovered from doing this project is how open young people are today. People own their identities and are confident with who they are. They feel empowered; the fences are down. It's such an exciting time. Photographers are only as good as the people in front of them, and London is rich with diversity and talent.

It gives you a sense of hope to see grassroots creativity alive and thriving.
Yes, thank god. In the 20-25 years I've been a photographer, I've watched the balance of the scales between art and commerce tip both ways. When they tip more towards commerce, life becomes more banal and grey. People might have more money in the bank, but it's an uninspiring existence. When they tip - which I feel is happening right now - towards art, it's a much more enriching and soulful way to live.

I think that's what's really special about you as a photographer. You spend time talking to and getting to know each person you shoot rather than just turning up cold and photographing them. Is this how you've always worked?
Yes, I couldn't just photograph someone on face value. I have to connect to people to understand them or else I might be missing the most exciting aspect of that individual. I've always been like that. I need to speak to people and engage with them, even if it's only over a quick cup of tea before the shoot for 10 minutes. Some people you can connect to in 10 seconds, you can feel it happening. Other people take longer. But everyone's got a story and everyone has something to say. I was talking about casting with Alice Goddard recently and she said she believes that everyone in the world has something that's worthy of a picture. Everyone. I think she's right, and that became my mantra.

Do you ever have a preference of whom you shoot?
I don't. As a photographer, you should be able to take anyone - whether it's an 80-year-old or an 8-year-old - and find the special something that makes him or her unique. As Alice said, everyone has something and I think fashion sometimes forgets that. It can become very premeditated, an army of identikit models; an accepted or pre-approved look. When fashion becomes too commercial, the differences, uniqueness and individuality it has always celebrated can quickly disappear. But really those favored individuals are no different to anyone else. Quite often when you meet a famous model or an actress you're a bit like... what is that magical thing? Sure, some people are immensely talented as performers in front of the camera, but it's incredible to see people, who have literally never been photographed before - who are intensely private or shy and wouldn't ever consider themselves worthy of a picture - with just as much to say as the natural born performers.

A phrase you kept coming back to throughout this project was "stay weird, stay different." Why did that resonate with you so much?
Every time I photographed someone for this issue, I was reveling in their weirdness, their difference and individuality. Sometimes you walk down the street, or you go to a restaurant, and you see the younger generation just sitting there on their iPhones, totally disengaged. There doesn't seem to be any joy or life and I want to shout 'What are you doing? Wake up!' Meeting so many of London's young designers, musicians, models and artists was so inspiring, I wanted to tell them stay with it, stay different, because difference is so valuable. Difference is the weapon.

Especially in today's corporate, money-focused world...
Difference is the weapon against banal, corporate, algorithmic blandness. It's more important than ever. The phrase "Stay weird, stay different" comes from Graham Moore's 2015 Oscar acceptance speech. Graham was the scriptwriter behind The Imitation Game and when he won the Oscar he went up on stage and that's what he said. It went viral, it was on memes, T-shirts, everything. I found it so interesting that this talented young scriptwriter felt that one sentence was so important. It was almost like a premonition of what was to come, the importance of individuality.

What were some of your highlights from the project?
I loved shooting Ibrahim Kamara, Campbell Addy, King Owusu, and Harry Evans. Ibrahim is a natural stylist, he has a gift, and Campbell has such a spirit of calm. He was very gentle; a photographer that I would champion in the future. As a group they made me feel like the world is fine. It can carry on if they're in control. They're very genuine. The girls from BBZ told me they used to look at my book in school. Going back to what you said about responsibility, I hoped that I was responsible enough to have given them something during that time. As a photographer, it can feel as though all your chickens have come home to roost. You are meeting kids in their late teens to late 20s who looked at your work growing up and all I kept thinking was, 'I hope you took something positive from it, that it helped you in some way.'

With over 20 years of experience in the industry, what advice would you give young creatives starting out?
Truth. Any meaningful creative gesture has to come from within you. It's not something you can be told to do. You have to stand in front of the mirror and really know who you are. When you know who you are then who you are will be inescapable and your creative message will resonate. What comes from the heart touches the heart. So ask yourself, what really motivates you? You can only engage with what you genuinely love.


Text Holly Shackleton

in conversation
fashion interviews
Tim Walker
the creativity issue