|Photographer and print maker, Todd Walker is best known for expanding the practice of photography beyond the conventions of the straight print during the 1960s and 1970s. Growing up in Los Angeles, his first exposure to photography was through his father, a draughtsman and architect who worked for Hollywood movie studios and developed photographs in the family’s bathroom. Shortly after his father’s death in 1931, Walker took a job as a painter’s apprentice at RKO studios, where learned about mixing color. During 1938-1940 he studied photography part-time at the Art Center School in Los Angeles under Edward Kaminski. Kaminski introduced his students to Surrealist painting by Braque, Picasso and Dali and encouraged his students to experiment with surrealistic techniques in their photographs. In the early 1940s, Walker worked with Shirley Burden, whose company Tradefilms, Inc. made educational training films for Lockheed, the US Department of Education and the US Navy during the war. Walker served as a fighter pilot instructor in Arizona.
In 1946, Walker and Burden established a commercial photography studio in Beverly Hills and their work appeared in House & Garden, Arts & Architecture and Arts Form. In 1950, Burden left and over the next decade Walker became a successful commercial photographer in his own right, at the forefront of the shift in advertising media from illustration to photography. His clients included Charles & Rae Eames, TV Guide and Chevrolet and his photographs were featured in LIFE and the Saturday Evening Post. However, dissatisfied with the creative limitations imposed by work for hire, he began pursuing his own projects between assignments. Over the next 40 years Walker researched and experimented with a number of photographic processes and techniques including the sabattier or solarized print, collotype, half tone, silk-screen, cyanotype, gum bichromate and van dyke print. He also established Thumbprint Press and published approximately 25 artist books and portfolios.
By the mid 1960s, Walker was spending less time in the studio and had begun teaching photography part-time at the Art Center College in Pasadena. After meeting photographer Robert Heinecken (1931-2006) at a meeting of the Society for Photographic Education, Heineken invited him to teach extension classes at UCLA. Heinecken and Robert Fichter (b. 1939) who also taught at UCLA, shared Walker’s interest in alternative photographic processes and printing techniques and encouraged Walker to quit commercial photography and teach full time. In 1970, at the age of 50, Walker closed up his Los Angeles studio and took a one-year position as Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Florida to replace Jerry Uelsmann who was taking a sabbatical. Walker remained in Florida until 1977, when he moved to Tucson to teach at the new photography department at the University of Arizona. In the early 80s, Walker began exploring early digital photography. Todd Walker died in 1998. Over the course of a sixty-year career, Todd Walker played an important role in questioning the established conventions of photographic modernism and transmitting those ideas to his students.
Todd Walker’s photographs are in the permanent collections of many public institutions in the United States and Europe including: The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Bibliothèque National, Paris; and the Chicago Art Institute.