FEATURED MEMBER – Alys Tomlinson

Posted on November 26, 2010


Alys Tomlinson is a freelance photographer based in London, who produces images for editorial, design and artistic purposes.

She received a BA (Hons) in Communication and English Literature from the University of Leeds and then went onto to obtain a PG Diploma in Photography at Central Saint Martins (UAL). She was named one of the 3D photographers to watch in 2007 by Photo District News, has been highly commended in the Observer Hodge Award and was the winner of the Flash Forward/Magenta Awards in 2008.

She obtained her first photographic commission whilst living in NYC for a year. On her return to London she went on to build up a network of clients and contacts, as well as a portfolio, whilst working as a part time assistant to other photographers.

Her clients include Time Out, Conde Nast, CABE, The Specialist Schools Trust, the Royal College of Art and EDF.

Q.  What was it that evoked your passion in Photography? 

A.  I wasn’t particularly arty at school and my family were more academic than creative, but at university I started to watch a lot of films, go to exhibitions and look at photography books in the library. I enrolled in a photography evening course and was then set a photography project as part of my Communications module. I had to produce images that had evoked a positive and negative feel. I took pictures around my hometown of Brighton with my Dad’s trusty old 35mm Pentax and got really good feedback. The tutor asked if I’d ever considered photography as a career, so I started shooting for the student paper and realised it was something that I really loved.

Q.  Do you have any ambitions for your professional career?

A.  I would love to have another solo exhibition and a book in the next couple of years. My main ambition is to keep up with the personal projects. I also have a couple of collaborative ideas in mind.

Q.  In what ways do you combine your personal and commercial work?

A.  My commercial work funds my personal work. Although in the past I have received some funding from the Arts Council and other private scholarships/awards, these are more difficult to obtain now. What I am trying to do at the moment is build up commercial work so that I can then take time out to dedicate myself to more long-term, personal projects. Sometimes though, my commercial work can lead directly to a personal project. For instance, I had a commission from the Specialist Schools Trust to photographs teenagers who’d been excluded from school. They were so interesting and striking-looking, that I stayed on and took my own large-format black and white portraits of them.

Q.  What are you currently working on?

A.  I’m beginning to experiment with moving image, which is made possible by the Canon 5D mark II. I’m also finding that some clients, particularly stock libraries, are requesting footage as well as stills, so with the interchangeable lenses, this is the perfect camera.
I’m also developing my Communities project, which I hope to finish in the Spring, and I’ve just started another series in a similar vein to the swimming pools, involving urban landscapes at night. I’m also working on another project documenting teenagers at a school for the blind, which I’m finding fascinating.

Q.  How do you approach each new project in order to make it as successful and effective as possible?

A.  I do quite a bit of research, rather than diving straight in. This often involves watching films and looking closely at the cinematography, but also looking into other photographers who may have done a similar project. For instance, in Arles this year I discovered that Trolley were publishing a book by Stefano de Luigi called ‘Blanco’ about conditions of the blind in four different continents. Although my project is very different, it was valuable and inspiring to see another photographer approach the same subject matter.
Sometimes a project does come from instinct…or even luck. That was the case with the swimming pools. It was a chance shot taken on holiday, that then led to a project and exhibition. With the project about the school for the blind, I spent a while talking to the school and made it clear that I would approach the project in a sensitive and unobtrusive manner. The same goes for the Communities project.
To make a project as successful as possible, I spend a lot of time ‘marketing’ the project afterwards – I enter lots of prizes, awards and competitions. Often you don’t win a cash prize, but they can be invaluable exposure and can lead to commissions, publications, exhibitions etc.

Q.  How do you think your work has developed over the years?

A.  I’ve become much more confident taking on commissions. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes worry or get nervous, but generally I don’t get stressed when it comes to commercial work. I think my personal work is more focussed and hopefully I’ve developed a fairly distinctive style.

Q.  What equipment are you using and what are your thoughts on Digital vs. Film?

A.  I was initially very wary about using digital, but as more clients demanded it I’ve had to invest. I have the Canon 5D mark II, which I love, although I still use medium and large format film for all my personal work. I’ve yet to match the depth and feel of shooting on film and I love the excitement of getting my contacts back and not knowing quite what to expect. I also prefer the slower, more considered way of working, where you really have to think carefully about each shot. This is particularly true with large format, where you are taking one plate at a time. It seems quite old-fashioned now, but it’s a much more methodical and precise way of working than digital.

Q.  When photographing a particular subject, what do you aim to capture and convey in the final images?

A.  With people, I like the subject to give a little away, but not expose themselves completely. I hope that my portraits have a subtlety and sensitivity to them. I aim to capture a strength and certain steeliness, but also the vulnerability that lies beneath. For me, a strong photograph makes you think and want to find out what the story is behind it.

Q.  What are your feelings about Gábor Osz, the winner of the BMW Paris Photo Prize, and his creation of a camera obscura using a caravan for his image?

A.  It’s good that approaches to photography are always changing. Although he’s obviously using a very old-fashioned technique, he manages to produce something striking and original. I also really like the fact that it’s the antithesis of digital, using light and paper in its simplest form to create something very beautiful.

Q.  What would you like to gain from you involvement with Pelime?

A.  New networks, inspiration and collaboration.

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