Perhaps better known as places of conflict, exile and Darwinian experimentation, Jon Tonks has photographed the people and landscapes of each territory, capturing traces of the past and offering a window into the communities and lifestyles that, despite the distance, remain very firmly British.
Empire explores remote lands and unfamiliar routines, where volcanic island evacuation drills are commonplace, important weather data is collected daily via balloon and sent back to the UK, and where one man is the sole police presence for 1,750 miles in any direction. Despite this, life on these distant outposts bears an undeniable mark of 'Britishness', Union Jacks fly high, Royal Mail postboxes dot the landscape and nativity plays are a key event on the Christmas calendar.
Award winning photographer Jon Tonks spent up to a month at a time in each territory, travelling 60,000 miles around the South Atlantic via military outposts, low-lit airstrips and a long voyage aboard the last working Royal Mail Ship. In total, he endured 24 flights and 32 days at sea.
Journalist, Christopher Lord, writes in the accompanying book, ‘Whether the islands are seen as relics of colonial buccaneering or a merry time capsule of ‘Britishness’ Tonks’ portraits allow us to reckon with the personal stories of those who live in the South Atlantic beyond the political or historical implications of their existence. These images are a visual narrative of a journey to forgotten communities in the ocean and a salute to the tenacious people who survive within them.’
Jon Tonks adds, ‘Through Empire, I wanted people to learn a little bit more about the places, the people and the history that shapes each island. Revealing the strong links to Britain helps to reduce the obvious distance in geography, enabling people to engage and find similarities. Unlike mainland Britain crime remains low and doors are left unlocked. Empire has been a remarkable adventure, and an opportunity for me to chronicle the lives and stories of forgotten communities.’
Empire is co-produced by mac Birmingham and The Library of Birmingham, Ffotogallery, Cardiff, GRAIN and Impressions Gallery.
Jon Tonks is a British photographer based in Bath, England. His work has been featured in The Sunday Times, The Guardian and FT Weekend magazines, Monocle, TIME LightBox, the British Journal of Photography and more. He has twice been shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing National Portrait Prize and the Terry O’Neill award, and in 2012 was a winner at the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Awards as well as Judges Choice at the AOP Awards. In 2014, Tonks was presented with the Vic Odden Award by the Royal Photographic Society for his first book Empire, the book was hailed by Martin Parr as one of his best books the year. His work is now in a number of private collections, both in the UK and abroad, including The Hyman Collection of British photography, and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Texas.
Tonks was born in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands in 1981, and took his first job as staff photographer on a local Midlands newspaper in 2005. Two years later he undertook an MA in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography at London College of Communication, and now continues to work on his own documentary projects and for a variety of editorial and commercial clients.