Female in Focus: Alys Tomlinson’s Ex-Voto book is out now

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Alys Tomlinson’s Ex-Voto book is the culmination of a five-year journey across Catholic pilgrimage sites in Ballyvourney in Ireland, Grabarka in Poland, and Lourdes in France. “Placed anonymously and often hidden from view, ‘Ex-Votos’ are offerings left by pilgrims as signs of gratitude and devotion,” she explains.

Since being shortlisted for the BJP IPA in 2018, the series has been recognised across the industry, also making the shortlists for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize and the Renaissance Photography Prize. Most recently, Ex-Voto won first prize in the Discovery section of the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. The eagerly anticipated release of the Ex-Voto book coincides with several exhibitions of the work; at HackelBury Fine Art in London from 7 March to 18 April, at Chichester Cathedral from 2 March to 23 April, and at SIDE Gallery in Newcastle from 6 April until 9 June 2019.

© Alys Tomlinson, from the book Ex-Voto

Included in Ex-Voto are essays by experts Dr Rowan Cerys Tomlinson, Professor John Eade, and Sean O’Hagan, each detailing some of the history of the sites photographed and the ex-votos themselves. All of the pilgrimage sites visited by Tomlinson have varying origins, dating back to the 6th, 13th, and the 19th centuries. Faith in the narratives of these sites is what draws in modern day believers; Mount Grabarka’s claim as a location for pilgrimage comes from tales of a cholera outbreak cured by holy water; and pilgrims believe that a young girl had visions of Mary in a grotto in Lourdes.

Tomlinson’s key interest as a photographer is the relationship between people and place, and her work explores themes of environment, belonging and identity. The objects and markers left behind as small donations of gratitude take the form of handwritten notes neatly folded and hidden in the crevice of rocks, crosses etched into stone, and lengths of ribbon tied around piles of twigs, creating a tangible narrative between faith, person and landscape.

© Alys Tomlinson, from the book Ex-Voto

The book features over 40 black and white images, many of which have not been seen before. “I wanted to capture the power of these deeply spiritual locations, but also the mystery and silence of religious sites that seem unchanged by time,” Alys explains of the work. 750 copies of the book have been published by GOST Books, and are designed by renowned book designer Stu Smith – out now!

Get your copy of the book here

Female in Focus is a new platform for exceptional photography by women, launching on International Women’s Day this Friday 8 March! Find out more here

Alys Tomlinson Ex-Voto book
© Alys Tomlinson, from the book Ex-Voto
© Alys Tomlinson, from the book Ex-Voto
© Alys Tomlinson, from the book Ex-Voto