Road to 2012

19 July – 23 September 2012

National Portrait Gallery
St Martins

For the final Road to 2012 exhibition Kander was invited to make two series of portraits. His compelling images of four talented young athletes for Rising Stars reference the iconic black and white portraits of the 1940s and ‘50s. Using dramatic lighting, and the interplay of highlights and dense rich shadows he reveals the vulnerability he observed in his sitters.

After three years and more than 100 photographs, the National Portrait Gallery’s largest commission, made possible by BT, reaches its conclusion today with the opening of its exhibition Road to 2012: Aiming High. 40 new portraits of some of the key players in London 2012 by photographers Anderson & Low, Nadav Kander and Jillian Edelstein go on show at the National Portrait Gallery from today 19 July. The exhibition is part of the London 2012 Festival, the spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration from 21 June until 9 September 2012, bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK.

Among Anderson & Low’s group of athletes and sports support teams are imaginatively depicted portraits of Mark Cavendish, the Men’s Rowing Eight with Rowing administrators Maggie Neto and David Tanner in a composition which echoes Grant Wood’s iconic American painting American Gothic.

Nadav Kander’s portraits include Rising Stars, four black and white studies of talented young athletes, including Jade Jones and Lawrence Okoye, and Torch Bearers, ten life-size cut-out photographs of ten Olympic torchbearers shown floating above the ground, apparently stepping out in front of the gallery walls.

Jillian Edelstein’s cinematic use of locations tells the story of people involved behind the scenes in the artistic and cultural arenas, such as Anish Kapoor and Stephen Daldry, from the planning of the opening ceremony to the catering and transport operations.

These will be shown alongside 25 portraits by Brian Griffin, Bettina von Zwehl, Finlay McKay and Emma Hardy, who were commissioned over the last two years of the National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 project, which documents the preparations for London 2012. Thanks to funding from BT, Road to 2012: Aiming High will conclude the journey to the London to 2012 project Olympic and Paralympic Games that started with the exhibition Road to 2012: Setting Out in 2010 and continued with last summer’s Road to 2012: Changing Pace.

Road to 2012: Aiming High is the largest of the Road to 2012 three-year summer cycle of exhibitions and is stylishly staged across several contrasting spaces throughout the Gallery. Celebrating the people who will collectively make the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games happen, each annual exhibition has been displayed free to the public at the Gallery.

Photographers Jonathan Anderson and Edwin Low have been collaborating as "Anderson & Low" since 1990. The wide-ranging work includes portraits, abstracts and nudes, and is noted for attention to concept, form and lighting. Their work is exhibited worldwide, in numerous public and private collections, including V&A, London, Museum of Fine Art, Houston, National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Galleries in London and Australia, the United States Olympic Center and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Their take on the concept of portraiture pushes the limits of the genre and Manga Dreams, (a hybrid between portraiture, graphics, calligraphy and cyber-culture), was featured in the 2011 Venice Biennale. Their publications include Athletes, Gymnasts, Athlete/Warrior, Champions, Circus, Manga Dreams, Chrysalis and Family Intimacies. Their most recent publication Endure – An Intimate Journey with the Chinese Gymnasts, is the result of an unprecedented two-year collaboration with the elite gymnasts in Beijing.

Anne Braybon, Commissions Manager for the National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 project, says: "Anderson & Low return to a formal style for Road to 2012. By carefully selecting the locations and meticulous positioning of their sitters they create timeless tableaux to depict athletes and support staff behind Olympic and Paralympic aspiration."

Nadav Kander holds a key position in contemporary British photography. He brings a cool keen eye, and consummate craftsmanship to an ambitious breadth of subject matter. Israeli-born Kander traces a passion for photography back to his teenage years in South Africa where he grew up. Since settling in London in 1982 he has built a multi-award winning career. Two diverse projects in 2009 augmented his international reputation; the New York Times commission to make 52 portraits of the Obama Administration, later exhibited as Obama’s People and his landscape work in China, Yangtze – The Long River, which won the prestigious Prix Pictet prize.

Anne Braybon: "For the Road to 2012 Nadav Kander’s compelling portraits of talented young athletes reference the iconic black and white portraits of the 1940s and 1950s such as Karsh, Brandt and Penn. Using dramatic lighting, and the interplay of highlights and dense rich shadows he focuses on the vulnerability he observed in his sitters. These contrast with his quiet sensitive portraits of ten torch bearers who represent 8000 ordinary people, nominated, for their extraordinary achievements, to run with the Olympic flame."

Jillian Edelstein’s work is a bravura example of photographic versatility. Relishing different ways of using the medium she has built an award-winning career in both portraiture and photojournalism. Born in South Africa, Edelstein worked as a press photographer before moving to London in 1985. Her first job with The Sunday Times led to portrait commissions from top international magazines including the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair. In Truth and Lies (2001), a powerful book and touring exhibition on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and her new book, Here and There: An Expedition of Sorts, she weaves together portraiture, photojournalism and landscape.

"For the Road to 2012", says Anne Braybon, "Edelstein draws on her passion for film to create cinematic vignettes with her sitters. She uses intriguing locations, and carefully crafted lighting to reference the stories behind the final preparations for the Games and the legacy work in the east of London."

Road to 2012 has also toured as a free outdoor exhibition to the heart of Britain’s busiest cities. 30 printed panels of the photographs including some from the latest commissions, have just opened in Birmingham, following visits to Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: "Road to 2012 is an essential element of the Olympic and Paralympic Games made possible through the generous support of BT and the close involvement of London 2012. It celebrates exceptional British sportspeople, and some of the crucial figures working behind the scenes – whether they be coaches and managers or soil engineers, architects or the producers of the key ceremonies. It features outstanding photographic portraits that convey the determination, skill and mental prowess of those working at the highest level of international sport."

Suzi Williams, Director, BT Group Marketing and Brand, said: "We began our journey with the National Portrait Gallery in 2009, setting out to share with the nation the stories of the people behind the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It’s been great to watch the collection take shape, and to be at the heart of making it happen. This year’s exhibition, of course, is the crowning glory bringing together portraits from previous years as well as unveiling new photographs. The Road to 2012 collection at the National Portrait Gallery will be a lasting record of the story of the Games for generations to come, and I’m proud we at BT have helped make that possible."

Ruth Mackenzie, Director, Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, says: "The National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 project is a wonderful record of the range of people working to make London 2012 a huge success. It is great that audiences can see this exhibition in London, and key highlights in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham, all for free."