Alys Tomlinson embarked on a global photographic pilgrimage after drawing inspiration from her MA.
Alys Tomlinson embarked on a global pilgrimage for her latest work.
I’VE BEEN LUCKY TO WORK AS A PROFESSIONAL photographer for nearly a decade now, having landed a job for Time Out after I graduated with my BA in English and Communications. The assignments were always a real adventure and I found myself shooting travel guides all over North America and Europe. After several years of shooting commercially I wanted to pursue more personal projects. Working as a photographer can often be quite isolating, so I craved community, structure and a new challenge.
The inspiration behind my project ‘Ex-Voto’ came from a film called Lourdes (2009), directed by Jessica Hausner. Not having any religious affinity myself, I was intrigued by this place that offered great spiritual contemplation and healing. I booked myself onto a pilgrim package tour to Lourdes, not knowing what to expect or what I would find there. After this first trip I realised that the subject had lots of potential, but I wanted to enrich my photography through writing and theory. The part-time MA in Anthropology that SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) offered looked closely at pilgrimage, so it seemed like a perfect fit. During a seminar we were discussing ex-votos, which is a religious offering given to fulfil a vow. I began thinking about the things that people leave behind at pilgrimage sites as markers of their devotion and realised that this had the potential to be the focal point of my project.
As my work started to develop, I began to focus on the relationship between faith, landscape and nature. The project now has three strands – still lifes of the ex-votos, formal portraits and wider landscapes – all shot on black & white 5x4 film to slow things down and reflect the timelessness of the locations. I began the project in Lourdes, but have since explored Christian pilgrimage sites in Ireland and Poland as well.
Studying anthropology has made me look beyond the photographic industry and opened new doors. As a result of my MA, I now approach my work in a more measured manner, and I think I’ve finally managed to strike a balance between personal and commercial work.
Alys Tomlinson graduated from SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) with an MA in Anthropology of Travel, Tourism and Pilgrimage alystomlinson.co.uk