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