where the writers are
The Granny Alphabet
Image from The Granny Alphabet by Tim Walker

Fashion writers toss around the word brilliant the way Border collie owners toss balls; often and not always with sincerity. But in the case of photographer Tim Walker, they may be on to something.

Walker creates startling images. They linger with you long after the clothes have been knocked-off, mass-produced, worn, recycled and forgotten. His pictures tell stories. But the narrative is never clear. What to make of the model wandering through a forest at dusk where an enormous doll lurks? Or the well-dressed woman lounging in a formal room who appears not at all bothered by the propeller plane crashing through the back wall? Or the stylish woman in the field who happens upon a human-size cracked Humpty Dumpty with raw yolk oozing? I have no idea. But I want to keep looking.

Walker makes these dreamy surreal images on film with elaborate sets and props rather than post-production digital tech tricks. And when he turns his focus on seemingly simple portraits of famous people against white backdrops, the results are as complex and intriguing than the most intricate sets.

His newest project, The Granny Alphabet, is difficult to categorize. From the title I imagined a collection of photographs of elderly women in yoga pretzel poses. I’ve seen a granny on a wedding dance floor form pretty decent Y-M-C-As so shaping the rest of the alphabet didn’t seem like such a stretch, so to speak. But that’s not what Walker does.

 The Granny Alphabet consists of two picture books in a boxed set. One features photographs by Walker with rhymes such as Dora has dozens of dishcloths, last count 110, so if at first Dora Doesn’t succeed, Dora can dry, dry again. The other is illustrated by Lawrence Mynott based on a concept by Walker and includes text such as S is for Slippers. The books might appeal to preschoolers learning their ABCs, although their actual grandmas are more likely to be doing downward dogs or speed dating than using metal walkers and sporting chiffon headscarves over beauty parlor ‘dos. The Great Granny Alphabet book, maybe?

Fans of Walker’s dreamy fashion photography may at first look at his portraits of wrinkled women wearing support hose and wooly cardigans as a kind of cruel joke. But these pictures are far more complex than that. Walker captures something authentic and interesting about each woman revealing the dignity and grace of some subjects, a kind of playful personality in others, and the creative spark that continues to shine not despite the passing years but because of them.