Alys Tomlinson

1975, born in Brighton, United Kingdom
Nominee - Prix Elysée 2021

Alys Tomlinson studied English Literature and Communications at the University of Leeds and photography at Central Saint Martins. She recently completed an MA (Distinction) in Anthropology of Travel, Tourism, and Pilgrimage at SOAS, University of London. Alys is most interested in the relationship between people and place, working on long-term projects that explore themes of environment, identity and belonging.


‘Gli Isolani’ (The Islanders)

Alys Tomlinson’s proposed project ‘Gli Isolani’ (The Islanders) seeks to explore themes – and scenes – of loss, faith, and ritual, in islands in the north and south of Italy. As encased communities with distinct and symbolic religious traditions, Italian islanders exist as people ‘set apart’. Beginning her journey in the northern Italian city of Venice, she will explore the islands of the Venetian lagoon. Many of these islands were once military bases, psychiatric hospitals, and monasteries. Eerily abandoned, their histories crumbling into the surrounding waters, they hold the promise of untold stories and forgotten narratives that risk being silenced forever. Venetian identity clings stubbornly to its past.

Travelling to the south of Italy, a similar story emerges as Sicilians and Sardinians tenaciously seek to hold on to centuries-old rituals. Holy Week sees thousands take to the streets, from the big cities such as Palermo to tiny, hilltop villages, where week-long, costumed celebrations unroll. Hidden in the Gennargentu mountains of Sardinia, women walk the cobbled alleyways dressed in all-black outfits and lace veils, mourning the death of Jesus.

Over several trips, Alys will take detailed still life images, landscapes and formal, large-format portraits of those she encounters in the villages of Sicily and Sardinia, particularly during this important week in the Christian calendar. Contrasting these images with the portraits and landscapes of northern Italy, she hopes to produce a meditation on place, faith and belonging, looking at what it means to be an islander in Italy in modern-day society.