Polly Tootal Finds the Intersection of Hope and Loss at Literal Crossroads


May 14, 2019

In globe-hopping work for clients like Monocle and Air France, award-winning, London-based photographer Polly Tootal skillfully connects person to place, combining transportive landscapes with sympathetic portraits—sometimes within the same frame. But in much of her personal work, people are conspicuously absent. In her “Corners” landscape photo series, Polly offers a series of intersections from her native U.K., imbuing them with a sense of transitional instability and ghostly calm. Subtle details give locational hints—British street signage, license plates, and brands—but Polly’s presentational style and site choices also lend her scenes a cross-cultural familiarity; anyone who’s felt the post-recessional pinch will connect with the limited options and general lulls on display.

At the same time, the palpable environmental character and, as Polly calls it, “possibility of renewal,” keep the approach galaxies away from poverty porn. Polly, who studied under Magnum photographer Mark Power, creates these effects by using a large-format architectural camera, which allows for minute detail even on large-print final images. She admits her preferred camera—technical and time-consumptive in terms of setup—is at odds with the “instinctual” way she chooses locations. But “they are two completely separate parts of the process,” Polly says. “There’s not much I can say about the instinct part other than I’m sure influences from all sorts of places have crept into my head to inform my decisions. I’m usually looking for strange, exotic places that exist in the mundane, like seeing a typically British street or building that’s reminiscent of an American vista from a movie.”

‘A very British tools shop that wouldn’t look out of place in the U.S.’

Harvester is another British restaurant chain. Polly composed this photograph of an Essex outpost in 2008.

Lamps-R-Us, located along a lonely London stretch of the A12, a major road that stretches from the U.K. capital to Suffolk.

From 2009. ‘Another sad-looking church deep in the English countryside.

‘I love the details when looking closely at landscape images; the trainers hanging on the telephone wire and the black bin liner full of rubbish left me feeling a sense of loss.’

A young deer passed this church moments after Polly packed away her camera. ‘Oh, what the image could have been!’ she says.

Polly points out that this East London members club sits across a wall from the Olympic Village for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which looms in the background.

A 2005 landscape photograph of one of East London’s strip clubs, many of which are now shuttered. ‘This one is now a club that hosts gay nights; the neon lady has been taken down.’

A magazine cover