Stu­dent show­case

Alys Tom­lin­son em­barked on a global pho­to­graphic pil­grim­age af­ter draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from her MA.

Practical Photography (UK) - - Welcome -

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

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