15 Questions With… Alys Tomlinson


How are you at the moment?

The sun is out today, I had a good night’s sleep for the first time in ages and I’m about to have coffee, so right now things are good!

What is your morning ritual? How does your day begin?

My alarm goes off at 7.30am, I make a cup of tea, put on Radio 4 and then attempt the Guardian (speedy) crossword. I realize this makes me sound like a retiree, but by about 10am I’ve switched to 6 Music.

What, right now, can you see?

I am working from home, sitting in front of my library of photobooks and I can see the rooftops of Stoke Newington in the distance.

What artist, project, book would you recommend we see/follow?

There are so many! Current inspirations include Dana Lixenberg and Andrea Modica. I am also very much looking forward to seeing Zanele Muholi’s exhibition at Tate when it re-opens.

Tell us about your process when starting a new project

If often starts with something that has piqued my curiosity. Then I begin delving into books, documentary films and sometimes poetry that might have relevance. I don’t have any expectations at the beginning of a project, it’s more about exploring an idea and being open to where it might lead.

What has been your favourite collaboration? 

The most unexpected collaboration has been with Vera, an Orthodox nun from Belarus who I’m now making a documentary feature film about. I first met her when I made a portrait of her for my project Ex-Voto. She’s a complex and captivating character.


What is your greatest achievement? 

Coming runner-up in my local netball league.

What is your greatest regret?

Not always following my instincts.

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Take chances, create adventures and don’t worry about the future (yet).


What is your latest project about?

It’s called Lost Summer and consists of 44 portraits of teenagers in north London who had their proms cancelled because of Covid. They are all dressed up in what they would have worn to prom, but photographed in their gardens, backyards and local parks. The images represent a loss and longing, but also strength and hope.

What are you researching at the moment?

I’m spending a lot of time researching rituals, faith and Italian identity for a new project I’m developing as part of the Prix Elysée. I’ve discovered some amazing Italian literature and films that have helped me connect themes within the project.

What can you not work without?

My tripod, a jacket with lots of pockets and my Moleskine notebook.

What challenges have you faced working in your industry?

Mmmmm… there has been many! The hardest thing has probably been to get a healthy balance between commissioned work that pays and personal work that fulfils me creatively. It’s taken a long time to get it right.

What are you hoping for in 2021?

That we can unite to start mending divisions that have become more apparent in society. I hope that normality can kick back in and on a more personal level, I need to stop watching The Bachelorette and spend less time on my phone.

Share a song with us, what are you listening to at the moment?

This is going to make me sound so out of touch, but I recently discovered a song called Vehicle by The Ides of March that I love. It’s from the 70s but I first heard it a decade ago on Strictly Come Dancing. Tom Jones also did a great version of it!