Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit a magnificent French style chateau which is a contemporary English museum, none other than the Bowes Museum in the town of Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England. The exhibition that drew me in is called Dreamscapes, and it will run through the summer, exploring photographer Tim Walker’s work beyond the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. The exhibit is geared to be a showcase of a combination of British Surrealism and English Neo-Romanticism with images that were not digitally manipulated by any means. In fact, every scene in the photographs was created with props and captured in natural light, while at the exhibit the images are displayed in light boxes, adding a special fusion of color and light.
The images reminded me of a photography spread produced by Richard Avedon that was featured in The New Yorker back in 1995, showing model Nadja Auermann posing with a skeleton, both wearing different outfits by a variety of designers. Walker did, in fact, work with the iconic Avedon in New York before becoming a regular contributor at Vogue, but this style of imagery is not what Avedon got his fame from. Even though the collaboration of Walker and Avedon was one of Walker being an assistant to Avedon, after visiting the exhibit, it became quite obvious that during his younger days Walker had infused some fresh ideas into the work produced in 1995 that were further apart from the mainstream fashion photography of the time.
The trip proved to be quite educational and challenging in a way, as I have always been a big fan of Avedon’s work, and a collector of his work. Considered by many to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest photographers, he passed away in 2004 leaving us with some incredible photography to remember him by. The highlight of his career was the internationally acclaimed portrait work of ordinary people of the American West shot between 1979 and 1984, which was displayed in an exhibition and a book called “In the American West.” Making no apologies for stereotyping the West and Westerners, Avedon once said, “I’m looking for a new definition of a photographic portrait. I’m looking for people who are surprising—heartbreaking—or beautiful in a terrifying way; Beauty that might scare you to death until you acknowledge it as part of yourself.”
“In the American West” is not Avedon’s most valuable contribution to the rare book world, but it is however, his most popular. The book was reprinted again the year after Avedon’s death in 2005 in a 20th Anniversary Edition that sold out quickly. It includes 120 exquisitely printed black-and-white photographs, and an essay by Avedon on his working methods and portrait philosophy. While prices have climbed significantly from the original list price of $75, a good copy can still be purchased for less than $200. Signed, first printings of the original work can be purchased for around $500.
Tim Walker’s books, on the other hand, are not generally considered rare. His well received “Tim Walker Pictures,” Te Neues Pub Group (June 2008), is worth a look. The book is decorated with a wide array of sketches and photographs, forming rich textured collages with intriguing details. While the hardcover, first editions are plentiful, the Special Edition and the Collector’s Edition that are signed by the artist are quite scarce.
During his presidential terms, President Reagan established the month of May as a time to celebrate photography and photographers. Since this is the end of May, we acknowledge the master of photography, Richard Avedon. His portraits of ordinary people and fashion photography nested between the gorgeous black and white landscapes of Ansel Adams, the spontaneous shots of beautiful women by Garry Winogrand , and the surreal photographic artistry of Man Ray certainly deserve much acclaim. We look forward to what is yet to come and Tim Walker’s work still in progress.