The story of the disappointment that lead to 650 magnificent portraits.
My London 2012 Volunteers project has become a microcosm of the Olympic experience. It has been garnering all sorts of attention online and has turned into a place for volunteers to connect. Messages like ‘Hey, we met on the train, I want to stay in touch’ are the kind of interaction I had hoped for.
The project has captured the imagination. It is remind people of the pride, hard work and enthusiastic collaboration that led to the games being dubbed ‘The Volunteer Games’. You need only look at the comments on the album and the photos on facebook: www.bit.ly/London2012Volunteers
Photographically, the project resulted from me solving something fairly negative:
I had turned down various assignments to block out my schedule to be in London during these games. I’ve followed the Olympics with growing enthusiasm since the Barcelona games in ’92. When London won the bid, I couldn’t believe it. 7 years of build up, 5 weeks of intense action and I still can’t believe the games were in my home city. The idea of it still makes me emotional.
When I cleared my schedule at the behest of my assignment editors at Getty Images, I was excited to be involved in some official way. I envisioned shoots for the sponsors, events with the athletes, even things only vaguely related to the Olympics. As I’m not a sports shooter, I wasn’t going to be covering any of the main events at the venues; I knew accreditations were tight. What I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute dearth of assignments. Getty had the same experience as the shops and restaurants of central London. Lots of buzz, but no visitors. Lots of buzz, but no assignments. It was heart-breaking, devastating, depressing even. Add to that the fact that I didn’t get any of the tickets I had applied for, I was in a storm of regret and disappointment. The fear of missing out.
Then a bout of inspiration changed it all. I managed to get tickets for the Women’s Volleyball at Earls Court at the last minute. It was great to watch the game, but what was even greater was the Games Makers who welcomed us with smiles, helped in every way, shared our dismay at not being able to get more tickets. To me they are the stars of the games. I know lots of people felt the same.
On my morning run the day after Earls Court, the idea came to me to do memento portraits of the volunteers. I wanted them to have something they could take away from the games, something they would be able to savour in 10, 20 or 30 years.
I knew from the outset that I wanted to take them out of the venues they were working in. I wanted to give equal billing to those stationed directing people over a bridge to those driving the top dignitaries. Lots of people were taking pictures of volunteers, I wanted to do something different.
A couple of challenges came to mind right away:
- I couldn’t spend much time with each volunteer. Their job is to make the Olympics run smoothly, not to be photographed.
- We needed a portable setup that had no permanence, lest we fall foul of local laws regarding business on sidewalks. We also didn’t have accreditation. We had to find a place away from the venues that was swarming with volunteers.
- We solved all of this by using a setup comprised of some black foamboard, 1 simple light. We used a fairly standard ‘strobe-over-daylight’ method to balance the natural and artificial light and I needed a minimum of three assistants every day to make it work. One for the backdrop, one for the light and one to get each person’s details and have them sign a release form on my iPad.
For the Olympics I photographed over 300 portraits.
We heard some amazing stories. The kind of stories that made me foam at the mouth with jealousy - A lot of the Game Makers I photographed were drivers, some drove the North Koreans, some drove family members. Not all of them had ‘All’ passes, but the ones that did were telling me stories of watching the athletics within reach of the Cauldron while their clients attend the stadium, many of them met athletes, many of them met dignitaries, many of them struck up amazing friendships. Many had come from afar, put a lot on the line to make the games work. It’s been inspiring.
After the Olympics I went and spent a couple of days in the sun. On the Eurostar to Paris, I received a phone call from Mr Matt Hatt who was working for the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) who asked if I could photograph the volunteer wrap party. I couldn’t but Matthew Richards, one of my volunteer assistants, jumped in.
Mr Hatt then asked if I wanted to come into the Olympic Park during the Paralympics. We agreed that Matthew Richards should be my assistant, having slaved away at the wrap party. We arranged accreditation and we spent close to a week in the Olympic Park during the Paralympics. We shot 350 more portraits. This time with support in the form of a Lastolite mobile backdrop which was a godsend, it made my setup mobile and easy to use. I was able to put all the equipment down at the Fleet Depot inside the park, no need for 3 assistants.
We snuck into the Arcelor Mittal Orbit and watched the women’s 100m final from the viewing platform. We cruised around the park on BMWs über-cool electric bicycles, got so close to the action that we were bombarded by fireworks shrapnel but had the most incredible vista views of the final night’s celebration. We even got driven home by a Games Maker in an official vehicle – Games Lanes and a behind the scenes car tour of the park.
On a personal level, the project couldn’t have worked out better for me. I have trouble finding the words to sum up my experience. The Olympic Games are the greatest show on earth. I was a part of it. I did portraiture, I did what I loved. It means so much, it made my year. I did it for free, I didn’t make a dime, I turned down paid work. It was worth it.
The project was picked up by The Guardian and was mentioned on twitter by Olympians Mark Foster and Greg Rutherford.
A stunning portfolio of portraits in which he sought to illustrate the spirit of the men and women he calls “heroes of London 2012.”
Roy Greenslade – The Guardian
“Thank you for taking photos of us. As an avid amateur Photog myself, I was impressed with the fervour, enthusiasm, and professionalism you showed during your shoot at Fleet Depot Olympic Park. My only regret is that I hadn’t met you earlier during my many incredulous and fascinating experiences throughout the Olympics and then the Paralympics. I would have happily swapped “roles” with you for one day to be behind the camera.
Games Maker facts:
- More than 240,000 applicants, of which only 70,000 became Game Makers after an interview process and training
- Over 2000 16-18 year olds were game makers during these games.
- Uniforms for the team of Game Makers, staff, officials and contracts required 765.92 miles of fabric, 359.37 miles of thread, 730,610 buttons and 1,069,034 zips. That’s a lot of stitching!
- Most applied over 2 years before the start of the Olympics
- McDonalds is the official partner for the Game Maker program and used their infrastructure to help attract, select and train the volunteers
- They delivered around 8 million volunteer hours to make the games run smoothly
A special thank you has to go out to my assistants – they were the guys that held backdrops, lights, iPads and kept a cheerful face on what ended up being very long, exhausting shoot days. They all volunteered their time:
Special thanks to Matt Hatt and my first assistant Matt Richards as well as all of the assistants as well as Lastolite UK for providing the backdrop for the Paralympics.
Let me close this post with some varied images around the Olympic Park and Stadium: