The photographs in Gli Isolani (The Islanders) by Alys Tomlinson, inhabit a hinterland between fiction and reality. Over a period of two years, Tomlinson documented the traditional costumes and masks worn during festivals and celebrations on the islands of the Venetian lagoon, Sicily and Sardinia.

The images will be published for the first time in this new book, Gli Isolani (The Islanders), and exhibited at Hacklebury Fine Art, London from 7 September – 29 October 2022.

Working with a large format 5×4 camera, Gli Isolani draws upon the visual language of Tomlinson’s previous projects, lending the black and white photographs a veil of timelessness. At the project’s genesis, Alys researched the literature and poetry connected to the history and culture of the islands of Italy, exploring tradition and identity, ancient myths, folklore and fairy tales. Set against crumbling stone and rural fields, the images depict the elaborate and uncanny costumes and masks worn for Holy Week, and other events and festivals, often inspired by pagan ritual and beliefs. The fantastical tales and precious costumes have been passed down many generations within these communities where customs run deep. The gestures and the costumes depicted in the photographs draw on the relationship between man and the land, the sacred and the profane, and good and evil.

‘Looking into them, I see ordinary people in extraordinary habits. Pagan and religious. Masked and exposed. Collapsing time, in front of your camera. Within this present-past continuous, devils and saints, hunters and creatures take hold of my rooms. Inhabit them, tacitly. I try to listen to the tales their eyes and gestures tell, to the timbres of the light reverberating in all of these pictures.’
– Sabrina Mandanici

‘I am drawn to subjects who could have stepped out of another era. Characters we may have met before in our dreams, nightmares and our own imagination. Making this work, I was reminded of fairy tales and stories from my own childhood. I was also struck by the great sense of pride entrenched in these communities, and was told time and again “Tradition is in our blood.”’


Alys Tomlinson was born in 1975 and grew up in Brighton, UK. After a degree in English Literature, she went on to study photography at Central Saint Martins followed by an MA (Distinction) in Anthropology at SOAS, University of London. Her major body of work Ex-Voto (2016-2018) explored Christian pilgrimage sites in Lourdes (France), Ballyvourney (Ireland) and Grabarka (Poland). Her series Lost Summer (2020) documented teenagers in north London who had their proms cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic. She is currently working on the film Mother Vera—a feature length documentary supported by the Sundance Institute, which focuses on a pilgrim she photographed for Ex-Voto. Alys lives and works in London.

Recent awards include: Winner of Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2020; Prix Elysée, Nominee, 2020-2022; Rencontres d’Arles New Discovery Award 2019, Shortlist & Public Prize Winner; Photographer of the Year Award at the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.

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