Nick Dolding

Sony World Photography Awards - The Winners

27 Apr 2018

Alys Tomlinson - Photographer of the Year 2018 and Discovery Winner, Professional Category

Congratulations on being awarded Photographer of the Year at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards. Your winning series Ex-Voto sees you travelling across Europe to different religious pilgrimage sites. What was it like meeting the members of these communities and were they receptive to being photographed?

Thank you! Yes, it took a while to earn people’s trust, which is why I returned a number of times over several years. In Lourdes, you see a lot of people taking photos but it’s not common to see the type of cumbersome camera I was using. In Ireland it was tiny site, so I got to know the friendly and tight community quite quickly. Poland was the hardest as there was a language barrier (and Polish is a very hard language to pick up!). I did get a friend to write a note in Polish explaining why I was there, but some of the pilgrims were still a bit puzzled by me. Most of the people I photographed were interested in my huge, bulky camera so there was an immediate engagement. I also showed them examples of previous portraits, so they could see that the portraits were very respectful.

© Alys Tomlinson, United Kingdom, Winner, Professional competition, Discovery, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards
© Alys Tomlinson, United Kingdom, Winner, Professional competition, Discovery, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards
From the series Ex-Voto, © Alys Tomlinson

You shot the images on large format black and white, 5x4 film. What was your reason for choosing such an analogue process for the project?

I love the large-format work of many photographers, including August Sander, Judith Joy Ross and Dana Lixenberg. The process slows everything right down and brings me closer to my subjects. Using this camera, I began to feel much more connected to the landscape and the people. It’s a very slow and considered approach and you have to be very precise and methodical. It also reflected the religious subject matter – quiet, meditative and there is a ritual to using large format (slide out, cloak over camera, focus with loupe etc). I love the excitement of not knowing what you’re going to get when you shoot film – sometimes it can be a disappointment, but other times it can provide wonderful surprises.

You’ve photographed music fans at iconic venues in the past, who can be very religious in their own right when it comes to supporting their idols. We often encounter some very dedicated fans at our annual Summer Series concerts - what is it about music fans that makes them so unique to you?

I lived in Brixton for a few years and would always try to guess who was playing at Brixton Academy, based on the style and look of people coming through the turnstiles at Brixton station. There is definitely an obsessive devotion that certain fans have, needing to identify themselves as followers of a particular genre of music. In fact, photographer James Mollison produced a photography book of music fans a few years ago called ‘The Disciples’, with the title of the series reflecting the fans’ idolisation of their heroes. I would see fans queuing for hours at venues across London ahead of concerts, some even sleeping outside overnight, so strong was their loyalty and dedication to a particular musician or band.

'Learning as much as possible about your subject before you start shooting will enrich your work'

Alys Tomlinson, Photographer of the Year 2018, Sony World Photography Awards

At Somerset House we’re committed to developing the next generation of creative professionals, with our Creative Job Studio initiative opening up the talent housed within our building to young people. Do you have any advice for young photographers wanting to make a successful career in the field?

Keep going and keep inspired. There are very few photographers who have overnight success, it takes a lot of hard work, drive and determination. Consume as much visual culture and as many words as you can – literature, essays, poems, films and sculpture all feed into your creativity. Also, always make notes! I always carry a notebook around with me and jot down anything of interest, so that I don’t forget. Research is also key to personal work, projects can take time (‘Ex-Voto’ was five years from start to finish) and learning as much as possible about your subject before you start shooting will enrich your work. Photography is a very competitive field, but if you have good ideas that are well researched and intelligently executed, it can be hugely rewarding.

Nick Dolding, Portrait Photographer of the Year, Open Competition

Congratulations on being awarded Portrait Photographer of the Year in the Open Competition of this year’s Sony World Photography Awards. You must have shot some interesting characters over the years – who has been your most unusual subject?

I’m quite often asked who the most famous person is that I’ve photographed but that definitely doesn’t mean they are the most unusual. I’ve recently photographed all the artists in my local artists' studio and collectively they made a fantastically interesting group of people. Dan the potter, talked about the form of his pots and how colour is a distraction, Victoria the screen printer was massively enthusiastic about how the taps on the victorian bath that’s used to dye fabric had become tarnished over the years. Daisy, who had just returned from India, talked with such passion about painting people on location I was left feeling a bit of a fraud. 

Nick Dolding
Nick Dolding

There’s more than a touch of Wes Anderson in your winning image, ‘Emile’, and you’ve said you were inspired by his film ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’. What is it about his films that make them so appealing to you?

The whole package really. It’s the combination of the characters, the styling and the story. They're all eccentric individuals and that’s the core of the story. Without interesting left of field individuals where would we be? Life would be dull and that’s what really grabbed me when I started shooting my ‘artists’ project. The styling and sets are also very memorable and I’ve done quite a few shots that have had some influence from the film and the ’70s as a whole. The symmetry of the sets often seems at odds with the unusual characters in them. With a nod to 'Anderson' I shot a series of retro portraits and my Afro project which still goes down really well.

Nick Dolding
Nick Dolding

'One of my favourite things is to 'barter', I actually got my awards tuxedo made to measure in exchange for a days shoot for the local tailor'

Nick Dolding, Open Portrait Photographer of the Year 2018, Sony World Photography Awards

You balance your personal work with commissions for commercial clients. How did you first make your way into the field of photography and do you have any tips for turning it into a sustainable career?

Photography was just a hobby initially and to be honest I didn’t really know there was a photographic industry other than wedding, press and sport. I’d always wanted to do something with my hands and a business studies degree was never really the answer. My eyes were opened at the age of 20 after meeting a stylist and I’ve never looked back. Four years assisting top advertising photographers was followed by ten years shooting still life then bigger and bigger productions. During this time I always shot personal projects from travel in Europe, India, Cuba and recently Cape Verde, BMX'ers, boxers and artists to the congregation at ‘Christ Victory Centre International’ in Camberwell. I think it’s becoming more and more difficult to forge a career in photography but at least there are no barriers to taking pictures. One of my favourite things is to 'barter', I actually got my awards tuxedo made to measure in exchange for a days shoot for the local tailor, how cool is that! 

And finally, how have you found exhibiting here at Somerset House?

I found the exhibition really brilliant, firstly Somerset House is such a great venue even when the sun isn’t shinning (luckily when I visited the other day it was glorious!). I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many times and the gallery rooms work so well dividing up the exhibition. After having the pleasure of meeting some of the other winners and hearing the back stories for their projects the whole thing really came to life. I was so pleased that my image was one of the first that you see when entering the East Wing and the fact that it’s printed so large was a real bonus. The two shots that I remember most were the massive images by Margaret Mitchell and Alys Tomlinson, both of which were shot on large format so my hat goes off to them both.