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National Portrait Gallery / BT Road 2012 Exhibition

Over 30 stunning printed panels showing newly-commissioned photographic portraits of top athletes and key figures involved in the staging of London 2012 can be seen outdoors twenty- four hours a day in British cities throughout this Spring and Summer.

Highlights of the largest photographic commission ever undertaken by the National Portrait Gallery, London, made possible by London 2012 sponsor BT, will include large-scale portraits of Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Tom Daley, David Weir, Seb Coe and Danny Boyle.

The free outdoor exhibition will go on show at the heart of three of Britain’s busiest cities opening in Cardiff on 30 March 2012 before touring to Edinburgh and Birmingham.

All three venues and their nations or regions have connections with the sitters and photographers on show. Scotland is represented by Olympic rower Katherine Grainger and photographer Finlay MacKay; Welsh sitters on display include Paralympians Nathan Stephens and Paralympic swimming coach Billy Pye with his protégé Eleanor Simmonds, who was born in the Midlands, which are further represented by Black Country-born photographer Brian Griffin, West Bromwich-born Olympic gold medallist and London 2012 Ambassador Denise Lewis, and Olympic triple-jumper Phillips Idowu who lives and trains in Birmingham.

Brian Griffin’s portraits include architect Zaha Hadid and the team responsible for the design and building of the Olympic Park’s Aquatics Centre and London 2012 Ambassadors Denise Lewis and Jonathan Edwards.

Photographer Bettina von Zwehl’s work for the tour includes Olympic diver Tom Daley, heptathlete Jessica Ennis and Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton.

Sitters for photographer Emma Hardy include LOCOG’s chair Seb Coe, artistic director Danny Boyle and his team, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison and world renowned author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo.

Among the portraits by Finlay MacKay are Olympic gymnast Louis Smith, wheelchair racer David Weir, top triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and Paralympic wheelchair rugby players Mandip Sehmi and Andy Barrow.

The photographs were first seen at the National Portrait Gallery in exhibitions held there over the previous two summers, Road to 2012: Setting Out (2010) and Road to 2012: Changing Pace (2011). The touring exhibition will include exciting unseen portraits by new photographers currently working on the final commissions. These names will be announced when the exhibition opens in Cardiff Bay in March.

Made possible by the support of BT, the National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 project represents an insight into contemporary approaches to photographic portraiture in the UK. The Gallery invited seven British-based photographers to contribute to the project. They were asked to work on location, in places that were relevant to the sitter’s role in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Launched in 2009 the project presents high-profile leaders and those less well-known who are working and training behind the scenes across the UK. It introduces the visionary figures who conceived London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the people responsible for designing and delivering the Olympic Park and the men and women with the enormous challenge of staging London 2012. The portraits feature the athletes at the heart of the event – World Champions, Olympians and Paralympians as well as those aspiring to be selected for Team GB for the first time.

In the first of the project’s three annual exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery in 2010, photographers Brian Griffin and Bettina von Zwehl mapped the early stages of the journey. Griffin features the visionaries behind the winning bid and the individuals responsible for designing and building the Olympic Park and venues. He is internationally renowned for his groundbreaking portraits of management and workers. Von Zwehl focuses on elite athletes at different career stages. She uses a traditional nineteenth-century studio method for conceptually led portraiture, working on 10”x8” film with a large plate camera.

Emma Hardy and Finlay MacKay created the second series, Road to 2012: Changing Pace in 2010-11. Hardy photographed those involved in the staging of London 2012. She shows them out of the office in places where they might find inspiration. She strips back photography to the essentials: light, the film in her camera and her subject. The resulting intimacy is a hallmark of her work. MacKay captured athletes while training and the people who support them to tell a story of the relationships and the work behind competition performance. He constructs these epic scenarios by digitally stitching together multiple files. This use of post-production techniques is central to his visual thinking.

Listen to the photographers talk about their careers and their work for the Road to 2012 project:
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This tour to the heart of three major British cities means that these extraordinary images – highlights of the National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 project – of inspirational people involved in London 2012 can be enjoyed for free by hundreds of thousands of people.’

Suzi Williams, Director BT Group Marketing and Brand, 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 for the nation. Taking the Road to 2012 portraits on tour will ensure that the inspirational power of the Games can be shared with even more people. As a Premier Partner of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, we are proud to be helping to make this happen.’

Ruth Mackenzie, Director, Cultural Olympiad, says: ‘It is great that both local people and visitors to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham will have the opportunity to see these amazing portraits and discover the stories of the extraordinary people connected to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Road to 2012 touring exhibition is made possible by Cultural Olympiad Premier Partner BT. As part of the London 2012 Festival it is among more than ten million free opportunities to take part in celebrations this summer right across the UK.’

The National Portrait Gallery has also commissioned video interviews with the photographers about their photographic practice and involvement in the project, as well as interviews with the sitters. These feature some of the sitters and behind the-scenes photographs of the shoots that reveal the stories. The website will carry the images, biographies and interviews with sitters and photographers.

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