Holy Island: The final instalment of Kingsley Ifill and Danny Fox’s trilogy is a meditative journey round the edges of the British Isles

View Gallery 7 Photos
Reading Time: 4 minutes

For eight days in December 2021, the photographer and painter drove a van on the peripheries of the nation. Their resulting publication is impulsive, diaristic, and a reflection of the “telepathic” nature of their collaboration

Kingsley Ifill and Danny Fox met around 10 years ago on the London art scene. The photographer and painter quickly became friends, but their artistic collaboration didn’t begin until much later. In 2020, they released the first of their trilogy of books, Haze: a series of 92 Polaroids made during the Covid-19 lockdown in Fox’s makeshift speakeasy, and now studio, in Cornwall. Later that year, they published a book of nude portraits, which were made in 2019 in LA. Their latest collaboration, Holy Island, marks a departure. While the first two books were published under Ifill’s own imprint, Tarmac Books, Holy Island is released by Loose Joints. More significantly, its subject matter moves away from figurative studies and into the landscape. 

In December 2021, Ifill and Fox set out on an eight-day road trip around the British Isles. “We wanted to do something that was completely different,” says Ifill. “Grey skies and muddy fields in English winter were as far removed as it could be from, you know, pretty people in the Hollywood Hills.” Neither artist had a particular interest in landscape images. “I’ve always liked landscape painting as a genre,” says Fox, “but never felt I had anything to contribute to it before. It’s more difficult to make a landscape ‘your own’.” But in this mutually unfamiliar territory, the photographer and painter found a new subject matter. 

© Kingsley Ifill and Danny Fox 2022, courtesy Loose Joints.
© Kingsley Ifill and Danny Fox 2022, courtesy Loose Joints.

“The objective of these landscapes was not only to show what Britain looked like at this particular time, but also to convey how it felt to drive through it, and to stand by while it moved around you”

Danny Fox

The journey – much like the nature of their collaboration – was intuitive. “When we started this project we didn’t have a clear plan of where we would actually visit,” Fox explains, “we only had a crude red line drawn across the map, vaguely marking the route”. With only eight hours of daylight a day, they drove up the east side of England, then diagonally through Scotland up to the Isle of Skye. They descended down the west coast through Liverpool, Manchester, and then into Wales, where they finished in Cardiff. “Eight days doesn’t sound like a lot of time,” says Ifill, “but when it’s winter, and it’s just the two of you, it becomes a very intimate and emotional experience. You see each other going high and low.” 

Working with different media also meant the journey was distinct for each artist. Ifill was jumping in and out of the van to take photos, but Fox couldn’t paint on the road. “I kind of sat there and thought about things and looked out the window,” says Fox. Note-taking has always been part of Fox’s creative process, and in this instance it became an important part of the final outcome. “The objective of these landscapes was not only to show what Britain looked like at this particular time, but also to convey how it felt to drive through it, and to stand by while it moved around you.” 

December 2021 was a precarious time. After almost two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, the UK was bracing itself for the winter months with the possibility of yet another forced quarantine. Ifill recalls the “sense of paranoia and hostility in the air”, but he also insists that the book does not take a political stance. “It’s more of an honest recording from a neutral standpoint,” he says. “I’m sure a lot of people are guilty of romanticising a place, or gently twisting your aesthetic, finely tuning it into how you want it to be interpreted.” This is also a benefit of a collaboration: “You’re forced into an angle on honesty.” 

© Kingsley Ifill and Danny Fox 2022, courtesy Loose Joints.

When Ifill got back to his studio in Kent, he began processing over 30 rolls of film. He mailed the prints to Cornwall, where Fox painted directly onto the images at his studio using nail polish – a reflection on what was available to him on the road. “There wasn’t an art shop in every town, but there is always a corner shop or a pharmacy where you can buy a couple of colours of nail polish,” Fox says. 

The finished book is meditative and tactile. Much like the journey itself, the sequence rambles through photos, paintings, and handwritten notes with an impulsive, diaristic energy – perhaps an unintentional reflection of their symbiotic collaboration. Ifill and Fox explain that while travelling, place names became a form of wayfinding. “Detours were prompted by encountering signs containing names of places that appealed aesthetically or simply rolled off the tongue nicely,” says Ifill. Holy Island – a tidal island off the north-east coast of England – was one of those places. “We got out of the van and stood there for a while. It felt as though you’d reached the end of the world,” Ifill remembers. There was no real reason why they decided to name the project after this place; “It just seemed to be one of those rare moments in a creative collaboration where both artists are thinking the same thing at the same time,” says Fox. 

Ifill recalls an encounter with London gallerist Hannah Barry, who visited his studio prior to an exhibition of the work back in February. “She asked how we go about discussing the work in order to make certain decisions. I can remember Danny looking at her and pausing for a moment, then replying, ‘We don’t really talk. You have to be on a telepathic level when collaborating with someone else. That’s the only way it can work’.”

Holy Island by Kingsley Ifill & Danny Fox is published by Loose Joints.

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Deputy Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.