The Cal™ 2018:
the thought process

An interview with Tim Walker, the 2018 Pirelli Calendar photographer

Home life The Cal™ 2018:
the thought process
The Cal™ 2018:
the thought process

Do you think this was the right time for Tim Walker to do a Pirelli Calendar?
I always wanted to do it, obviously. I mean it’s an interesting thing that you look at a picture from a Pirelli Calendar and you know when it was taken; it’s very much of the time.
And I always like the way you’d look at it and you could see that the photographers were given a freedom to voice their visual imagination.

Shall we talk about your thought process and how you started to formulate your ideas?
Alice has been told so many times, a friend gave me the book with the John Tenniel illustrations a couple of years ago and I’d never seen them before. It suddenly took me back to Alice and what Lewis Carroll was doing, I just wanted to go back to the genesis of his imagination so that you could tell it from the very beginning again, in a way, I didn’t want to be influenced by Disney’s interpretation or Tim Burton’s interpretation, I wanted to just go back to the core of the imagination, which is what he did, when he gave his illustrations to John Tenniel to interpret. 

And it was a lot darker, you say, originally.
I think culturally we’ve sugar-coated fairy tales in the last 50 years. Children can really see and feel the darkness in things just as much as the lightness. And that’s something that Lewis Carroll completely got, and maybe that’s why it resonates so much.

The Cal™ 2018: the thought process 01

I wouldn’t say that people have said there’s a darkness to your work at all, but it has been described as a beautiful strangeness.
There is beauty in many different things, something dying and decomposing is sometimes just as beautiful as something that’s just been born. I think there’s a misconception to only focus on the lighter side.

When working with other talent for you is it more a question of feeling, culture, understanding?
To come on a shoot like this, you learn how to get the best out of people to realize what you want to do. It’s a collaboration, working with everyone to bring the best out of them to make your pictures the best they can possibly be.
When I’m thinking about pictures I always want to see a picture that I’ve never seen before. That’s the first thing. You always try and create a photograph that you’ve never seen, but it reminds you of something maybe you have seen before. And I think cross-pollination is really important. So, you look at the work of a photographer, an artist, a film-maker and a story you’ve read somewhere, and then you mix it all up, and you can then create something completely new.

The collaboration with Shona Heath...
Shona is the master of the set, she adds so much more than what I’m capable of. So, if I have a certain vision she’s questioning it and challenging me and showing me references of things I might not have seen before. She’s got a sense of color like no one else. Her attention to detail is unmatched.

Would you say that if you’re not totally true and passionate about your project will people see through it?
I think photography is a sort of apparition, it’s something very magical and, kind of, intangible, it’s not really there but if you really believe in it you have the facility to make it true and appear.
Photography works best when it feels effortless. When things become over-labored it loses power, because I think photographs are vital when there’s almost a mistake about them, and that they’re done very spontaneously and there’s immediacy.

The Cal™ 2018: the thought process 02

You want to get to a place where you’re flying, do you think, when you’re working?
You know, some of the most famous photographs that have ever been taken were never labored. A lot of the war pictures that we remember are split second moments that just came and went, I think that’s how photography works, on instinct and speed and chaos. A lot of pictures I take are in some way a love letter to what's been done before, so it’s like a bridge to the past, an acknowledgement of who’s innovated before me.

Just briefly on the casting again, was this, for you, a very interesting balance of people who you’ve worked with before?
The Sean “Diddy” Combs and Naomi scenes were chaos. That’s good chaos, you want that. One thing I’ve found out as a photographer is that when things are a little bit out of control they’re better. Because you’re running on instinct and you’re just capturing things quickly. You can’t carry ideas or cultural interpretations or the weight of something in on a shoot. You couldn’t possibly walk on to set and start taking pictures with too many questions about what the definite thing will be...instinct, that’s the thing.

Do you think with the calendar turned out you’d hoped?
As a photographer you’re never satisfied, it could be different, but I’m really pleased with the pictures I’ve done, I’m really proud of them.

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