In Gli Isolani, Alys Tomlinson documents age-old Italian rituals

Born from the photographer’s ongoing interest in anthropology and ethnography, the series – now on display in London – seeks to uncover some of the country’s otherworldly traditions

Known for her evocative portrait photography, as shown in her previous bodies of work Lost Summer and Ex-Voto, Alys Tomlinson is a photographer with an aptitude for capturing the human gaze. Over the last two years, she has been applying this skill to a new project, titled Gli Isolani (The Islanders), which has seen her travel throughout Sicily, Sardinia and the islands of the Venetian lagoon in search of historic and little-known rituals.

Now completed, the photographs are on display at HackelBury Fine Art gallery in London. Captivating, intimate and, at times, decidedly strange, they offer a rare insight into Italian traditions that very few ever see, let alone photograph.

Top image: Sos Corriolos di Neoneli, Sardinia; Above: Sos Merdules, Ottana, Sardinia. All images: courtesy Alys Tomlinson and HackelBury Fine Art
Maschere a Gattu, Sarule, Sardinia

These traditions are inspired by paganism and folklore, and feature striking costumes and masks that have been preserved and handed down for generations, to be worn only during times of celebration and festivity.

The black-and-white shots of the subjects emphasise an already clear juxtaposition between past and present, the traditional and the contemporary. Viewers are invited to meditate on themes of place, faith and identity, contemplating the value of these traditions and their role in modern society.

I Giudei, San Fratello, Sicily
Il Diavolo, Prizzi, Sicily
Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily

It’s also an opportunity to consider and appreciate the quality craftsmanship on display, with the subjects proudly wearing clothing and objects that have lasted many decades worth of use. Care is clearly taken to preserve each piece, ensuring its survival into the future and into the hands of generations to come.

Gli Isolani (The Islanders) is on display at Hackelbury Fine Art until October 29,; The series will also be published in November in a book published by Gost Books,