Alys is an editorial and fine art documentary photographer based in London.
Her projects are often research-led. Tomlinson is most interested in the relationship between people and place, exploring themes of environment, belonging, and identity.
She was selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition in 2017 and was awarded first place in the 2020 edition with three portraits from Lost Summer, the series shown here; she won the Sony World Photographer of the Year Award in 2018. Her work has been seen in numerous exhibitions in the UK and Europe, while Tomlinson’s book Ex-Voto, the culmination of a five-year photographic journey to Catholic pilgrimage sites in Ireland, Poland, and France, was published in 2019.
The Lost Summer series consists of Tomlinson’s recent prom portraits photographed as lockdown eased in 2020. The prom portraits capture the poignancy of a lost summer for teenagers who were unable to sit their school exams or mark this significant step in growing up and leaving school.
These images were taken between June and August 2020. With school proms cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the easing of lockdown, Tomlinson photographed 44 teenagers near her home in North London, all dressed up in their prom outfits. Instead of the usual settings of school halls or hotel function rooms, she captured them in their domestic outdoor spaces, the gardens and streets where they live. They represent a loss and longing, but also celebrate each teenager as an individual, navigating this extraordinary time. Lost Summer began as an idea when the artist was frustrated that she could not travel to work on her existing projects. Once lockdown eased, she began to move around her neighbourhood photographing the teenage children of local friends from her street and the surrounding area and posted them on Instagram. As word spread, so the project grew and the significance of the subject matter became more apparent as summer evolved.
The prom portraits are a testimony to the resilience of these young people. The portraits are self-assured and defiant, yet they also suggest surrender and courage. These outdoor settings remind us of the calming and transformative quality of nature. The prom portraits represent a merging of two worlds – the inner and the outer, the psychological and the physical.
More information about the series and Tomlinson’s other work can be found here:
Images ©Alys Tomlinson / Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London