National Portrait Gallery salutes Games heroes in Aiming High

Aug 9, 2012

From medallists, to chefs, this photography show celebrates the many faces of the Olympics

National Portrait Gallery

What you need to know
Photo-portrait show Aiming High, is the final exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery's Road to 2012 series of commissioned photographs, documenting the faces of those who paved the way for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The exhibition features portraits by well-known photographers including duo Anderson and Low, Nadav Kander and Jillian Edelstein of athletes and gymnasts including Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington, Beth Tweddle, Tom Daley and Paralympian Tom Aggar.

There are also portraits of those who contributed to other aspects of the games including artist Anish Kapoor, director Stephen Daldry and London Mayor Boris Johnson, along with backstage workers from chefs to cleaning managers. Runs until 23 September.

What the critics like
The photos in this inspiring new show are not quick snaps or candid behind-the-scenes revelations, says Jim White in The Daily Telegraph. Anderson and Low have shot rowers, swimmers and gymnasts, composed "with painterly care", and lit with precision "to create the formality and feel of a fine art portrait". The picture of the women's hockey team, in the grounds of Bisham Abbey, "reminds you of Constable's English landscapes, a Hay Wain with hockey sticks and Lycra".

The exhibition not only reflects the gargantuan task of the Games, it also presents an opportunity to explore different modes of contemporary photography, says Ben Luke in the Evening Standard. Jillian Edelstein's portrait of artist Martin Creed, whose bell-ringing project opened the Games, is "particularly winning", giving a moustachioed Creed the air of a ringmaster.

The best contributions are two sets of portraits by Nadav Kander, says Tabish Kahn for The Londonist. "His moody black and white minimalist head shots of athletes reveal a range of emotions." The portrait of Taekwondo competitor Jade Jones evokes a youthful innocence, "while the sheer muscular presence and intensity of Lawrence Okoye (Discus) is intimidating".

What they don't like
Critics have very little negative to say about the show, though the Standard's Ben Luke says: "It is a tricky commission, because while Olympians and Paralympians inevitably bring action, the unsung heroes backstage, however worthy of attention, are often simply blokes in suits."

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