PHO705: Guest Lecture – Jon Tonks

This was another video in the initial backlog of lectures that had gone unmentioned/undiscovered for reason(s) unknown.

Introduction

Jon Tonks is a British photographer based in the UK. His work focuses on telling stories about people’s lives shaped by history and geography. With an MA in Documentary Photography & Photojournalism from London College of Communication, his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, Sunday Times, Telegraph and FT Weekend Magazines, the British Journal of Photography and more. He has been shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing National Portrait Prize three times, twice for the Terry O’Neill Award, and in 2014, Tonks was presented with the Vic Odden Award by the Royal Photographic Society for his first book Empire – a journey across the South Atlantic exploring life on four remote British Overseas Territories. The book was hailed by Martin Parr as one of his best books of 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. https://www.jontonks.com/

Projects discussed:

  • Empire – this was based around Ascension, Saint Helena then Tristan de Cuna, 2007-2014.
  • Falklands for which a book was published
  • South Pacific 2014-2020
  • Multi-story arts-based charity commissions Magnum photographers. Took part in a project about the Black Country around Sandwell and the Polish and Eastern European migrants.
  • Vanuatu – a South Pacific island where colonial and missionary influences were rejected. Its people instead identified with the economic strength of the US and awaited the arrival of a white man as US citizen who would bring change.

#Advice

Jon’s work followed on from his photojournalism. He worked for a local newspaper for a while but it was very limiting. At this point, he turned to his study of the lesser-known Empire. Following portfolio review was asked to do something more exciting so went back to revisit. He showed the book dummy at University.

The experience in Jon’s case was he didn’t know what the outcomes might be for his work. Work just snowballed.

It can help to go to Photo Fairs and Portfolio Reviews, but these can be harsh and will reduce some people to tears.

Jon started with simple portraits. One a group of boys and a bicycle was put forward as a Taylor Wessing entry.

Tonks’ Falklands book was published by Dewe Lewis. The layout was of simple two page spreads with a photo on one page with the text opposite. A specialist was used to do the map artwork. Almost by surprise, the Falklands book sold out. A second edition was created, of which there are some left.

Doing the projects again, they’d be done in a slightly different manner.

Projects can take 6 years, 7 years and evolve.

Release forms were used with the Ascension project but this evolved to asking permission and taking contact details if the work was to be used in a commercial sense. What the work does is represent things as what are. Everyone knew why the photographer was there and what he was doing.

Self-funded projects were possible through weddings and some documentary work for the Nokia brand. Tonks relocated from London to cheaper areas. He felt he missed some openings and events.

There is the idea of pitching to a newspaper and building up a relationship. It is difficult to do it with full-time commissions.

The new location in Bath it quite centrally placed. Being local you get to pick up work there.

It is important to realise the kind of photographer you aren’t. Realise what you’re good at and not so good at. Try to remain focussed like an arrow.

Working with an agency can be very very interesting in bringing support https://www.togetherassociates.com/artist/jon-tonks/stills/

Bibliography

Photographs – Jon Tonks from Falmouth Guest Lecture

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