JANESVILLE—There was a time you could have called Meghan Walker’s dream of becoming a professional photographer pure fantasy.
A UW-Madison grad with a degree in English lit, she had no idea how to get started shooting pictures. She had never taken a photography class. She didn’t even own a camera.
About all Walker had going for her was desire—and an overactive imagination.
“I have lived in the clouds for most of my existence, and I needed an art form where I could create what I imagined,” she explained. “My drawing skills are humorously bad, so I needed something more attainable.”
Walker eventually discovered fantasy photography, a genre she describes as “conceptual work done through more of a fantastical or historical aesthetic.” A fantasy/horror film fan, the idea of capturing elaborately dressed subjects posed in magical, dream-like surroundings appealed to her.
“I ended up finding photographers from all over the world who do similar work, and I was inspired,” she added. “So I bought a used camera online and started looking at what was already out there, trying to figure out how I could do something similar but different.”
After three years of trial and error and fact-finding missions on YouTube, Walker has developed her niche. This year, her work has appeared in exhibits in Orlando, Florida, and Paris, France. In November, it will be included in a show in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
On Sunday, Aug. 5, she will join 60 other exhibitors taking part in the 61st annual Tallman Arts Festival on the Rock County Historical Society campus in Janesville.
The Tallman show holds a special distinction for Walker, who spent two years as RCHS marketing and outreach coordinator.
“I never participated as an artist, but I helped set up the event and find artists,” she said. “I’m really excited to see how it goes from the other side.”
Artistically, Walker is comfortable in her skin. She immerses herself into her craft, spending countless hours searching for ideal set locations. She often crafts by hand the creative wardrobes featured in her work.
“There have been shoots where I’ve made my own costumes out of natural materials,” she said. “There was an Elizabethan gown where the hoop skirt was 200 inches in diameter, and I made the whole thing. There was a dress I made out of book paper that took me four months to craft. I dropped it in a puddle on the way to the shoot, so I only got two pictures. It did its job.”
In most photos, Walker serves as both photographer and subject. In “Rain Dance,” she appears dressed in a flowing yellow dress as she walks away from the camera, toward an oncoming rainstorm. In “Into the Dark Unknown,” Walker seems to float nude in dark water, surrounded by what appears to be the same yellow dress. In “Forever Home,” she is a near-transparent spirit in a blue dress, haunting the library of a historic home.
“I’ve been approached by people interested in being my subjects, but my specialty is self-portraiture, so I’m the model 90 percent of the time,” she said. “I like to do the work myself, I know what my vision is, and I’m always available to work with myself. If I waste my own time, it’s only me.”
If customer feedback is an indication, Walker isn’t wasting her time.
“Even if they’re not coming in to buy, I’ve never had anybody say ‘that’s boring,’ and turn around and leave,” she said. “They want to talk about the photos because they’re conversation pieces.”
As interest in her work increases, Walker remains inspired ... and perhaps a bit impatient.
“I wish I could be further along, but three years ago, I was taking pictures and feeling defeated because they didn’t match up to the artists I was inspired by,” Walker said. “Now I can look at my work and say I got to exhibit right beside them.
“Sometimes we need to take a step back and just say, ‘Hey, that was pretty cool.’”