A series of striking new photographic portraits of athletes, politicians and engineers is today revealed as part of the National Portrait Gallery
/BT Road to 2012 Project. Part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the exhibition Road to 2012: Setting Out shows a new side to Britains medal hopefuls and key figures behind the bid and delivery of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games through powerful portrait images.
As the two-year countdown to the Olympic and Paralympic Games begins, and thanks to funding from BT, the Gallery is unveiling 30 portraits, the first from a total of 100 commissions which will be displayed at the Gallery each summer over the next three years. For the first time, the National Portrait Gallery has commissioned portraits and video interviews with some of the sitters and behind-the-scenes photographs of the shoots which reveal the stories behind the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 Project celebrates those who are collectively making the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games happen. BT, the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is the Project partner, enabling the Gallery not only to create the portraits but also to share them with the public through the annual exhibitions, a website and community projects between now and 2012 as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
Road to 2012: Setting Out features the work of photographers Brian Griffin and Bettina von Zwehl. Griffin photographed the visionary figures who conceived and won the bid for London, as well as those responsible for designing, building and delivering the Olympic Park. Von Zwehls photographs include young athletes aspiring to be selected for Team GB for the first time, World Champions, and Olympic and Paralympic medalists.
The project website www.npg.org.uk/roadto2012 - where visitors can contribute their own inspirational photos - is launched today and features new interviews with Bettina von Zwehls sitters, behind-the-scenes shots and East London perspectives.
The first 30 commissioned portraits on show in Road to 2012: Setting Out include those involved in winning the bid and the delivery stage as well as top young athletes who reveal the people who inspired them:
World champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis
The UKs first individual world diving champion Tom Daley
Double Olympic Gold medal-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington
One of only two UK athletes to compete at both Winter and Summer Paralympic Games, BT Ambassador Nathan Stephens who lost both legs at the age of nine - when playing on railway tracks; he now aims to be the UKs greatest Paralympian thrower.
World renowned architect Zaha Hadid pictured beside her Aquatics Centre during construction
Key people behind the bid for the London Games - Tessa Jowell, Ken Livingstone, Sir Steve Redgrave
Steve Deeble, Antonn Russek, Dave Skerritt and Clare Staveley, engineers working on soil cleaning, a key part of the sustainability promise for the Olympic Park
Brian Griffin (b.1948) is recognised for his groundbreaking depiction of work. He established an international reputation through his portraits of the workers who built Broadgate in the City of London in the 1980s. It was reinforced in 2007 when London and Continental Railways commissioned him to document the management and workforce who built High Speed 1, the UKs first high-speed railway, and the largest construction project in British history.
Griffin takes his inspiration from a broad range of visual culture. Old Master painting informs his lighting, and his interest in nineteenth-century symbolism, classical sculpture and B-movies contributes to his images. Invited to portray the sitters in groups for this commission, Griffin returned to the collections of the National Gallery and the National Maritime Museum. He rarely preconceives an image, preferring to observe and respond to his sitters. Drawing on his imagination, technical virtuosity and experience as a film maker, Griffin works with sitters to create compelling and complex scenarios.
German-born Bettina von Zwehl (b.1971) began making portraits as a student at the Royal College of Art. She adopted the nineteenth-century studio methodology that she had first encountered as photographers assistant in Rome, working on 10 x 8 film with a large-plate camera. This slow, quiet process and the descriptive power of the format give her images an extraordinary intensity. Since graduating in 1999 von Zwehls work has been collected and exhibited internationally. Her first monograph was published in 2007.
For this commission von Zwehl was invited to make a series of portraits on location to give the viewer a sense of personal encounter with her sitters. Inspiration marks the beginning of an athletes journey to the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Gallerys accompanying interviews, in which the sitters speak about their own inspiration, are integral to the display. Travelling across the country with her assistant and husband David Robinson, von Zwehl photographed the athletes in settings where they live or train. Robinsons control of light and von Zwehls concentrated engagement with her subjects result in meditative observations of face, mood and physique.
To celebrate the National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 Project, BT launched a portrait competition Everyday People on the Road to 2012 looking for the pictures and stories of the everyday people who are making a difference to the London 2012 Games. The competition asked people to nominate someone who was contributing behind the scenes, without wide public recognition, to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The winner was Ray Haggan, who won for his commitment to nurturing swimming in the UK. His prize was to have his portrait taken by Bettina Von Zwehl and this is also displayed at the Gallery.
Further annual commissions from high-profile and emerging photographers will document sporting aspiration and performance as well as the staging and legacy of London 2012. The portraits will form a lasting record of the Games accessible to the public for many generations to come.
Each subsequent phase of the Project will be displayed free to the public at the Gallery in the summers of 2011 and 2012. The final display in summer 2012 will open with the staging of the Games and will culminate in an exhibition that includes highlights of all the commissioned work.
An integrated participation programme for people living and working in the five Olympic host boroughs will explore the contributions and views on the vision and legacy of London 2012 in their local areas, resulting in display and interpretation material.
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: This ambitious project, made possible by BT, is an important moment for the National Portrait Gallery. It not only shows extraordinary people connected to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it tells their amazing stories and shares their inspirations. The Gallery and BT very much hope that visitors will take part in the project by coming to see the exhibition or by getting involved through our website.
Ruth Mackenzie, Director, Cultural Olympiad, says: It is great that people can see these amazing portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and also at www.npg.org.uk/roadto2012, where they can also see behind-the-scenes films and photography and contribute their own inspirational photos. This interactive project is made possible by Cultural Olympiad Premier Partner BT, who through this initiative are helping us tell the amazing stories of the extraordinary people connected to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Suzi Williams, Director of Group Marketing and Brand, BT, says: 'The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a once in a lifetime experience and it is important for the cultural legacy of the Games that the people at the heart of the event are celebrated and recorded. The Road to 2012 portraits will help ensure that the inspirational power of the Games can be shared with the nation for years to come. As a Premier Partner of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, we are proud to be helping to make this happen.'