The iconic Sunday Times Magazines has chosen to celebrate its 50th anniversary issue with a superb picture spread from the UK’s South Atlantic territories. Well, naturally.
Jon Tonks has spent four years capturing the character of St Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, the Falklands and Gibraltar – ‘little rocky relics of empire’ that ‘cling to the motherland’s apron,’ as the magazine puts it.
Sadly, Jon’s picture of Tony Leo’s caravan didn’t make the magazine, but it can be found on his website.
Islanders may not appreciate the accompanying text by the celebrated writer AA Gill, which dwells much on the death of the British Empire but tells us virtually nothing about Gibraltar and the South Atlantic islands as they are today.
‘Now we’re left with these specks and corners of empire,’ he writes, ‘the tiny shards, little nationettes too small, too far and too slight to make it on their own.’ He’s got a point, though.
Gill does recall, interestingly, that his father made a television documentary about Tristan da Cunha in 1962, without actually going there. Since the Tristanians were all in the UK at the time, this is understandable.
He also rather wittily describes the loss of a succession of British colonies as ‘the end of stamp-collecting as we knew it.’
But The Sunday Times Magazine is renowned for its photo-journalism, and it’s the documentary pictures of Mr Tonks that carry the feature.
He doesn’t take the usual shots. The main picture on the opening double-page spread shows a couple of lifeboats that have come to rest amid rocks and lush greenery on Tristan, well up from the shore. Apparently they’re from the oil rig that bumped into the island in 2006.
Then there’s another of one of the beaches on Ascension.
Others show the governer of the Falkland Islands, posing in full uniform (which says something for the persuasive powers of Mr Tonks), fisherman Noddy with a freshly-caught tuna off Ascension, and a flight of steps on Gibraltar painted with a ‘defiantly British’ Union flag.
There’s also a picture of a past mayor of Gibraltar, slouching in a low chair in front of a placard that reads, ‘I was born British and I want to die British’.
There is only one picture of St Helena, looking down on Jamestown – a familiar view, but slightly different in a way that’s hard to pin down. The road up Ladder Hill can be seen snaking away to one side, so it has not been taken from the usual position at the top of Jacob’s Ladder.
However, there are 27 more St Helena pictures to be found on Jon’s website, including one of Governor Gurr at Plantation, and another of trainee mechanics Jamie and Dylan, working on an old truck at Prince Andrew School. We’re not told the names of the two girls snapped in their school uniforms.
In other pictures, Tara Thomas and musician Tom relax on the verandah at The Briars; Ivor Bowers, Fabian Peters and Cedrick Henry lean against a truck at Sandy Bay; Kerisha Stevens sits on a doorstep, toes turned inwards; Steve Biggs poses in an un-Saint-like cravat; ‘the only Frenchman on the island’, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, stands in the garden at Longwood House; and Jimmy Thomas of Half Tree Hollow leans against a blue wall in a blue shirt, not looking blue at all.
There are landscapes too, and also quite a few pictures of cars. Jon had a gift of a subject in the 1930s Austin Ambassador that was used to drive King George VI and his family around the island in 1947. If Prince William ever turns up on the island, he won’t by riding in that.
Jon had an excellent guide to the island in Ed Thorpe, also a gifted photographer.