PHOTOGRAPHER FOCUS: Alys Tomlinson
19 February 2019
We catch up with Alys Tomlinson who's award winning project Ex- Voto is about to go on tour in the UK. The photographic project which explores Catholic pilgrimage sites is also due to be released as a book this March. Alys shoots a combination of commissioned and personal projects.
© Alys Tomlinson
Your Ex-Voto project first came into the limelight when it won the Sony World Photography Awards last year, It’s about to be published and tour galleries around the UK. Was this always your aim for the project?
I never have an end goal when I start a new project. It’s usually driven by a curiosity or fascination. Of course, exposure and recognition is rewarding, but that’s not what motivates me to make work. It has surprised me how many people have connected and engaged with Ex-Voto. It’s quiet photography, but I hope the stillness makes the work powerful. As the project developed, I did hope it would become a book as I felt it was important to see all the images together in a tangible form. Turning the pages is a different experience from seeing prints on walls.
© Alys Tomlinson
You appear to have the perfect balance of shooting commissioned work as well as your personal projects is this the case and does one feed the other or are they kept quite separate?
They are quite separate in that nearly all my personal work is shot on film and most of my commissioned work is digital. Commissioned work is often for design agencies and I do a lot of lifestyle and education work, which funds my personal projects. On the surface the work looks different, but commissioned work provides structure and discipline that can be carried over into personal work. I would love to just concentrate on my own projects, but this isn’t financially viable. Also, commissions often involve creative problem solving, in-depth research and re-evaluating ideas, which can all benefit long-term, personal projects. The commissioned work has also made me more confident in approaching people and handling sensitive situations. Nearly all my work deals with the connections between people and their surroundings, so although it’s not always obvious, there is definitely a crossover.
© Alys Tomlinson
Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on?
I am currently working on a short film about the life of a nun called Vera (featured in the Ex-Voto series). Vera means ‘faith’ in Russian and the portrait I took of her in the woods became one of my favourites of the whole series. There was something unique about how she confronted the camera. I have spent time at her convent in Belarus and the work is an extension of the Ex-Voto series, exploring a mysterious, religious world often hidden from view. Vera is a fascinating character and the film is about her life, faith and sacrifice. This is the first time I’ve worked with moving image, so it was a bit of an experiment, but I had a very clear idea of the look and feel I wanted. I was awarded a grant from Sony to make new work and the resulting film will be shown at the Sony World Photography Awards at Somerset House in April 2019.
©Alys Tomlinson. Stills from Vera
What inspires you?
I go to a lot of photography exhibitions, watch a lot of films and try to read as much as I can! I really like American literature from the 70s/80s and at the moment I’m watching a range of documentary, new wave and Russian film. I’ve also always been an ‘observer’ and I could people-watch for hours. Inspiration comes from small, everyday moments and I’m always jotting things down in notebooks and sketchbooks.
What does the AOP do for you?
I’ve recently gone to them for some legal advice, which was very helpful. I also got a large commissioned job last year via a design agency, who found me through the ‘find a photographer’ tool. The online forum can also be great and I’ve found other photographers very supportive and generous with their time and knowledge.
What’s next for you?
I have recently been selected for the New Discovery Award at this summer’s Rencontres d’Arles, which I’m very excited about. I’ll be combining photographs from Ex-Voto with moving image. It’s always been my dream to show at Arles, so I’m very much looking forward to it!
Ex-Voto published by GOST Books March 2019
Chichester Cathedral 2/3/19 - 23/4/19
HackelBury Fine Art, London 7/3/19 - 18/4/19
SIDE Gallery, Newcastle 6/4/19 - 9/6/19
View Alys Tomlinson's portfolio in Find a Photographer