Jon Tonks: Empire — Impressions Gallery

Jon Tonks: Empire

Explore a fascinating journey of life on four remote British overseas territories.

Empire is a fascinating journey, six years in the making, exploring life on four remote British overseas territories; Ascension Island, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and the Falkland Islands.

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.

A Gather of Sheep photography by Jon Tonks
A Gather of Sheep, Long Island Farm, Falkland Islands © Jon Tonks
Jon Tonks: Empire — Impressions Gallery
Marcus Henry, Meteorological Station, St Helena © Jon Tonks
The Last Cow photograph by Jon Tonks
The Last Cow, Ascension Island © Jon Tonks
Jon Tonks: Empire — Impressions Gallery
Port Howard (Terminal One), Falkland Islands © Jon Tonks


  • Jon Tonks

    Jon Tonks

    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.

Jon Tonks exhibition opening

Our visitors say..

 “Thought provoking and insightful – a striking collection of beautiful images”

 “What a fascinating collection. An intriguing amount of detail from island history to personal stories and accounts. I loved the photographs, really well composed and were true and realistic to view.”

“A unique account, very much enjoyed taking it all in and seeing such remote places. It just shows how life, beauty and stories exist at all corners of the earth.”

Jon Tonks: Empire — Impressions Gallery