International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
The poignant Road to 2012 photography exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery, just north of Trafalgar Square, is a smartly curated array of portraits that celebrates the many individuals involved in this year’s Summer Olympics, ranging from today’s Olympians, Paralympians and official organisers, to East End locals living near the Olympic Village.
The collection -- which numbers more than 100 pieces and is the largest the gallery has ever commissioned -- is displayed in several styles, including cinematic vignettes, life-size cut outs and straight head shots.
Divided into four parts over three floors, the diverse subjects include the Duchess of Cambridge (who is an official ambassador to the Games), the Olympics’ head of catering, local boxers and swimmers, London Mayor Boris Johnson, artist and musician Martin Creed and sculptor Anish Kapoor (who designed the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture in the Olympic Park). The staged and beautifully lit pieces are best seen in person, but are also available online with audio commentary and behind-the-scenes video if you can’t make it to London before the exhibition ends on 23 September.
The entire collection has an emotional resonance, but the section on young athletes in the traditionally maligned East End region of London and the profiles of the inspirational individuals nominated to be torch bearers leading up to the Games is particularly moving. Every caption tells a story of an ordinary person being touched by the Olympic gods, or at least their spirit.
Plus, the true delight of seeing the world’s greatest athletes up close is in the details, like the tattoos on British swimmer Fran Halsall’s foot that sport the lion icon of the 1948 London Olympics, and another on the chest of British para-cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth, which displays the GPS coordinates where he lost his arm in a rocket attack while on a tour of duty in Iraq.
The National Portrait Gallery has free admission.