Todd Walker (born Harold Todd Walker September 25, 1917- September 13, 1998) was essentially a self taught artist whose medium of choice was photography. He worked with light formed images for 60 years exploring sabattiers solarization, artist books, silkscreen, lithography, collotype and digital. All of these images utilized additive color with source images starting as black and white negatives. He had essentially 2 successful careers: he was an award winning freelance advertising photographer in the 50's and 60's as well as an internationally known and respected artist/educator/researcher from the early 70's until his passing in 1998.
In the 30’s shortly after his father died when Todd was 16 he went to work at the RKO studios as a painter’s apprentice. He polished the floors Fred Astaire danced on as well as working on film sets for Citizen Kane and a number of other films. In his late teens he enrolled in a summer school course at Art Center studying with Will Connell and Eddie Kaminski. Around that time, after he had to discontinue his studies at Art Center, he crossed paths with Shirley Burden who became a life long friend. Shirley Burden (who helped start Aperture,) enlisted Todd as a collaborator and they created Tradefilms making educational films for the military in the early 40’s on how to fly the P-38. Todd photographed every part of the P-38 in 4x5. Tradefilms ended after Todd joined the military during WW2 to become a flight instructor in the Army Air Corps.
After the military service Todd married and returned to LA where Shirley Burden shared a studio with him in Beverly Hills. In the 1950’s he gained a reputation and became a successful free-lance photographer working with clients like Charles & Rae Eames, Frank Brothers, TV Guide, and Campbell-Ewald, making the signature Chevy ads from the late 1950’s. He would make the pictures that were conceived in Detroit and then make his own version. His version was always the version that would end up as the advertisement. He was given awards yearly through the ASMP. In 1955 he was asked by the ASMP to go visit Edward Weston to pick out some prints for the organization and to help support Weston during his ailing years.
In 1963 he was asked to do a one-person exhibition at the California Museum of Science and Industry. This opportunity along with the visit with Edward Weston and his friendship with Wynn Bullock began a gradual transition away from advertising work toward personal expression, which he had been investigating during his off hours and storing in the ‘bottom drawer’. During the mid 60’s he began teaching at Art Center. Around this same time he attended one of the first Society for Photographic Education conferences where he crossed paths with Robert Heinecken. By this time Todd had begun exploring artist books and was making tiny hand made collotype/letterpress books that were hand bound. He did the work from start to finish – including the marbled paper that we would make with him. Both Todd and Heinecken arrived early at the SPE conference and they developed a fast friendship after Todd shared his tiny book endeavors with Robert. The book projects lead to the Thumbprint Press where approximately 25 books and portfolios were self-published.
Shortly after Todd’s encounter with Heinecken, he was invited to teach extension classes at UCLA. By this time Todd was deeply ensconced in exploring more of the 19th century photographic process including gum printing, cyanotype and van dyke brown printing as well as the sabattier solarization process for which he received high acclaim. Word spread and soon he was teaching at Cal State Northridge as well as Art Center and UCLA extension courses. This began a huge shift in Walker’s career path. When Robert Fichter moved from the Eastman House in Rochester to LA to teach alongside Heinecken at UCLA, another fast life long friendship was forged. Fichter, Heinecken, Curran and Walker had a small show in the late 60’s somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. Shorty after this event, Fichter recommended Todd Walker for a one year sabbatical replacement for Jerry Uelsmann at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Around this time there was also a one person exhibition in San Francisco through the focus Gallery. In 1970, Walker shuttered his advertising career and shifted his life focus toward being an artist/ professor/ researcher.
The one year sabbatical replacement position at the University of Florida in Gainesville turned into a seven year tenure at the university where he taught along with Jerry Uelsmann and Doug Prince. Todd was represented by Light Gallery in NYC, taught workshops all over the country, was published internationally and was sought out for technical advice by both students and professionals including Robert Rauschenberg.
In 1977, Walker was sought out by the University of Arizona at Tucson for a full time teaching position in a new photographic department that was being formed in connection to the Center for Creative Photography. Initially he taught alongside Harold Jones and W. Eugene Smith, but Smith passed away that first semester. Todd Walker impacted many of his students while he continued to expand his vast body of his life’s work. In 1981 he began teaching himself machine language and started to explore the possibilities of the digital photographic realm long before photoshop became a common tool. He was a pioneer on so many fronts but he had little interest in pursuing gallery representation by this time, except for his former student, Stephen Josephsberg, who maintained a gallery in Portland, Oregon. Todd Walker was highly regarded by the photographic community as a photographer’s photographer. His work is in many collections around the US. He continued to exhibit his work primarily through educational venues. He retired from teaching in 1987 at the age of 70 but continued to do class visits with students who were then teaching around the Tucson area. He continued his research in the digital realm on a daily basis until 2 weeks before his sudden death in 1998.