When Britain went into its first lockdown following the Covid-19 outbreak, photographers across the country and beyond found their work put on hold. The acclaimed photographer Alys Tomlinson used the time to create the series Lost Summer, highlighting the sacrifices young people were making. Three images from the series won Tomlinson the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2020. Here she explains what drew her to the stories of prom students whose futures were hanging in the balance.
“I moved to New York when I was in my early twenties and got my break taking all the images for the Time Out New York Guide, which had just launched. Some years were then spent doing travel photography, editorial, people and places, then I came back to London to study photography formally at Central Saint Martins.
“[During lockdown] a lot of photographers found that jobs were cancelled, put on hold or postponed indefinitely. I was supposed to be working in Italy for three or four weeks but that got shelved. Particularly in the first lockdown, we were really unable to take on any commissioned work, or any work that involved going inside houses or working with other people.
“I started thinking about how the pandemic was affecting the youth of today – and the teenagers who were already at a difficult and challenging stage in their lives. It must have been tricky for them because their education had come to an abrupt halt and they didn’t get all the rites of passage and celebrations you would normally have at the end of school. The prom wasn’t a thing when I was growing up, but it’s now an important event in the social calendar of teenagers. I have friends who have kids around that age and thought it would be nice to photograph them in the outfits they would have worn to their prom.
“I was keen not to be selective – I didn’t want particular types. I didn’t want you to be able to look at one of the portraits and think, ‘Well, they’re clearly from a middle-class background or go to a private school.’ I wanted it to be much more democratic and for you not to make those kinds of judgements.
“I suppose I didn’t set out with a clear idea of how I wanted to portray the students, but I wanted them to have this kind of inner strength that would come through. I was really struck at how resilient they were. I didn’t want them to look like they were victims of the pandemic, I wanted them to look like young people who are self-possessed and confident, but also have this slight fragility and vulnerability about them.”
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