Ex-Voto is the culmination of a five-year photographic journey to Catholic pilgrimage sites in Ballyvourney, Ireland, Mount Grabarka, Poland, and Lourdes, France by award-winning photographer Alys Tomlinson. The book’s title, Ex-Voto, refers to the physical offerings given in order to fulfil a vow – humble objects such as handmade wooden crosses and pages torn from notebooks – which connect the pilgrim with the landscape. The project comprises of black and white portraits of pilgrims, landscapes of the sites and still-lifes of the ex-voto objects, captured on large format film. Shot with an objective gaze, the images appear untethered from contemporary life and out of time, whilst evoking both the stillness and spirituality present at these sites of great contemplation. Ballyvourney, Mount Grabarka, and Lourdes are pilgrim sites whose origins go back to the 6th, the 13th, and the 19th centuries respectfully. The narrative drawing the faithful to Ballyvourney involves an early Christian woman’s hunt for nine white deer; to Mount Grabarka, the miraculous curing of a cholera outbreak by holy waters and the removal of an icon of Jesus from a church for safekeeping in a hilltop forest; and Lourdes, a young girl’s visions of Mary in a grotto. Belief and faith in these narratives draw modern-day believers, whose pilgrimage signals both their belonging to a community and an act of faith.
‘It is a difficult undertaking, this visual divination of belief. In her reflective, rational, but deeply attentive approach, Alys Tomlinson evokes the silence and the stillness at the core of the spiritual life, but also its mystery and its simplicity, the one inextricably bound up with the other. It pays to spend time with these stark, mysterious images. They go to the very heart of things unseen’. - Sean O’Hagan