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Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year at the Sony World Pho­tog­ra­phy Awards 2018, Alys Tom­lin­son dis­cusses her work

Sony World Pho­tog­ra­phy Awards win­ner Alys Tom­lin­son dis­cusses her win­ning se­ries

My project ‘Ex-Voto’ is about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween faith, pil­grims and the land­scape. I first went to Lour­des around five years ago on a kind of ‘pil­grim pack­age tour.’ I had no idea what to ex­pect and spent a week feel­ing like an out­sider. My ini­tial images were shot in colour and more doc­u­men­tary in style. I kept re­turn­ing, but strug­gled to ex­press the oth­er­world­li­ness of Lour­des. I was nearly ready to give up on the project all to­gether, but some­thing kept draw­ing me back. The sites have a sense of mys­tery and time­less­ness that I found in­trigu­ing.

Two years ago, af­ter sev­eral trips with the images not work­ing, I went back and de­cided to change my ap­proach en­tirely, shoot­ing in black and white, large-for­mat film. This shifted my process, slow­ing it right down and bring­ing me closer to my sub­jects. It is a much more me­thod­i­cal ap­proach and I be­gan to feel more con­nected to the land­scape and the peo­ple. I then ex­tended the project to in­clude Chris­tian pil­grim­age sites in Ire­land and Poland.

I draw a lot of in­spi­ra­tion from vis­ual cul­ture and lit­er­a­ture. For this se­ries, cinema was very in­flu­en­tial, in­clud­ing Haneke’s The

White Rib­bon, Paw­likowski’s Ida and Bergman’s The Sev­enth Seal. I al­ways carry a note­book with me, to jot down ideas. I’m also in­flu­enced by other pho­tog­ra­phers, par­tic­u­larly the Amer­i­can wave of the 1950s-1970s and I love the large-for­mat, black and white work of Au­gust San­der, Judith Joy Ross and Dana Lix­en­berg. I think it’s im­por­tant to look be­yond im­age mak­ers and that’s why I stud­ied for a part­time MA in An­thro­pol­ogy, while I was work­ing on the project. This en­riched my work and gave me a deeper un­der­stand­ing of pil­grim­age.

All the images from the ‘ExVoto’ se­ries were shot on a hefty, 5x4 cam­era with one lens. I’ve al­ways pre­ferred us­ing fixed lenses to zoom lenses. It means you have to move around and get closer phys­i­cally. Work­ing with large for­mat means that peo­ple are very cu­ri­ous about the cam­era, so there’s an im­me­di­ate en­gage­ment, but there is also a still­ness to the images that re­flects the re­li­gious theme. Tech­ni­cally, the depth of field means that the fig­ures re­ally jump out at the viewer, giv­ing the por­traits a pow­er­ful pres­ence.

This project has been a great ad­ven­ture, tak­ing me on a very per­sonal jour­ney. Start­ing with a cu­ri­ous fas­ci­na­tion, the project has grown into so much more and opened up the cen­tral­ity of pil­grim­age to us all.

PRO BIOAlys is an award-win­ningeditorial and fine art pho­tog­ra­pher based in Lon­don. Alys com­binescom­mis­sioned work for clients with per­sonal work, which she pub­lishes and ex­hibits. In 2013 she pub­lished her first bookFol­low­ing Broad­way.WWW.ALYSTOMLINSON.CO.UK

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