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.

Asking the volunteers to be involved in the project

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.

Our very rudimentary street portrait setup

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.

The Paralympics:

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 view into the Olympic Stadium from the Orbit

Feedback:

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.

 I was in awe of your story about how you came to be photographing some of us. Your drive, dogged determination and initiative is probably only surpassed by some of the amazing and world beating athletes that I happened either to drive from one venue to another or have lunch with in the Olympic Village. Yes, I was one of those who had the absolute privilege of an ALL Pass.
 We all contributed in our own unique way to make London 2012. 
Please don’t ever underestimate your role in this.”
L.M. – Games Maker
What a cool idea to show support and appreciation for the great volunteers like this. And to let the folks use the great photo you took of them for free as well? Very nice one, Felix!
S.K – Facebook
Thanks so much for these Felix, they are great and really captured a great time!!’
L.P. – Games Maker
Thank you Felix, for taking the time to contribute to the greatest show on Earth for at London 2012.
R.S. – Games Maker
What a memory! Unbelievable experience and now great photos too!
C.N. – Games Maker
Thank you again Felix for a great memento of my small part in London 2012.
B.W. – Games Maker

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.

 

Anyes Green
Chiara Gaul
Jeff Boudreau
Kai Cem Narin
Kate Murrel
Matt Thompson
Oscar May
Sam Butler 
Solange Moreira-Yeoell
Wayne Lennon

Let me close this post with some varied images around the Olympic Park and Stadium:

Mexican Wave – do they call it that in the US?

the action was over but they stayed behind to soak up the atmosphere, even in an empty stadium

The famous cauldron – my favorite piece of Olympic symbolism – the screens say ‘Quite for the Start Please’. During Paralympic relays, which include blind and partially sighted runners, a guide is present. Silence is required to allow the athletes to communicate with their guides.

A lull in the action

view across the Olympic Park to the Riverbank Arena

Our view of the fireworks

Thank you!

 

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20 Comments

  1. Bess reply

    thankyou so much for my photo and fo giving so much to te 2012 gamesmakers. I think you have done us all a fantastic service.

    God luck in yur future projects

  2. dolly silvester reply

    Felix

    Thank you for taking an”official portrait” of myself at the FDO. i LIKE 70000 will always remember the Year 2012, for most of us it was a dream that became a reality. In our uniforms we ordinary people from all walks in life became noticed and noticed for all the right reasons.
    So thank you very much for my portrait and making me part of history.

  3. Felix Kunze | Olympic portraits | Wayne Lennon reply

    [...] can see Felix’s write up about it on his blog (http://www.felixkunze.com/blog/2012/the-london-2012-volunteers-portrait-project/) and view the images on Felix’s facebook page [...]

  4. Sue Sheltrum reply

    Fabulous photos Felix. Thank you so much for a wonderful project and for my souvenir.
    Sue

  5. Steve CANT reply

    Thanks to Felix and his team for a great memento of my time as a Gamesmaker. I have already shared it widely.
    Like other T3 drivers I felt that we were sometimes “out of sight and out of mind” but the tedium of all that waiting is now fading and the camaraderie we felt is now stronger memory. It was important that we provided a “capability” (even if it was was underused). I would not have missed it for the world – a great way to start my retirement. Keep up the good work Felix and I hope your drive and enthusiasm in doing these Gamesmaker portraits leads to other great things for you.
    Many thanks once again

  6. Laura Feeley reply

    An amazing experience from one day to the next, blood, sweat and tears with emotions Soaring! Could see it in the faces, the colors, lights, sky. All the surroundings that made it all into one! Truly everyone there and watching from afar were there in spirit. You pt it all together Felix. I’m so very proud of you! Keep going!

  7. Mike de Silva reply

    Many thanks for recording so much of London 2012. I am so proud of my portrait of which my sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will each have a copy…and of London 2012 will be able to say, “He was there” If only I could have had a similar memento of my involvement at the 1948 London Olympic Games.

  8. Marta reply

    Great Job Felix!
    Keep working and inspiring others :)

  9. David Watts reply

    I have just read the comments from other Games Makers, and I have to be honest and say that I had to wipe a tear away from my eyes because the comments brought back so many fantastic memories of my time being a part of the Olympics and Paralympics as a T3 driver at FDO.

    Life seems quite dull now after such a fantastic time, meeting great Games Makers, famous sportsmen and women, Officials, Sponsors and IOP/IPC guests, not to mention a few hangers on !!

    Your photos also brought back the faces of many fellow volunteers, all of whom without exception were amazing people. It was so sad walking out on that last day knowing that the adventure had come to an end. Your photos will be added to the many other souvenirs I have of the Games, and I know that I will never forget the experience, and will probably be talking about it for years to come.

    Thank you Felix

  10. Richard Scarth reply

    The comments above echo my thoughts exactly. The greatest show on earth. I still cannot believe I was part of it. Being part of the amazing London atmosphere, in that great city, was truly unforgettable, laughing and joking with complete strangers on the tube. The stories from the other T3 drivers from FDO were the jewel in the crown and inspirational.

    Thanks again Felix for giving your time.

  11. Trudi Dingwall reply

    To everyone who I met as a result of my role as a T3 driver at FDO, I just wanted to say the most heartfelt thank you. Smiles welcomed me as I arrived for my 10 hr shifts, accompanied me throughout my 26 shifts as I met the great, good and gorgeous of both the Olympics and Paralympics. I have forgotten the hours at Eton Manor, Curzon Street, Baynard House, and Heathrow northern staging. Now I just remember the amazing colleagues I shared the dream with, and the members of the Olympic family, who I was priviliged enough to meet and greet and show my home town to. It was the best 9 weeks of my life and I will be talking about it for the rest of my life. Thank you Feliz for providing a professional reminder of the friends I made in 2012 x

  12. Marion Blackwell reply

    Well Felix what can i say that has not already been said !? The experiance of a life time and something I am really missing already! I met some amazing people as a T3 driver and was so proud of being a part of the games….things have really come down with a “bump” as I have returned to work and back into the old routine….but I can take away the memories from the photos you have taken and an experiance I will never forget…thank you Felix for these last memory’s. x

  13. Frances Inglis reply

    Thank you Felix for being inspired to do this, and for the great work by you and your team.
    Like many others, I volunteered because I so wanted Britain to be proud of the Games.
    I was proud and happy to be a T3 drive at the Fleet Depot Olympic Park for both Games. I got a buzz every day going into the park and signing on for my shift. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it brought out the best in everyone involved.

    Thanks again. Frances

  14. Chris Simmons reply

    Thanks, Felix, for providing a memorable record of an unforgettable experience. We really appreciated the work you did at the Fleet Depot

  15. carol chapman reply

    I already miss that special feeling London had during The Olympic and Paralympic Games.
    People stopping me, when I was in my Games Maker uniform, to thank me for the wonderful experience they had had at the Games.
    But who do I thank?
    Thank for the honour and privilege of being the tiniest part of such a wonderful experience – surrounded by so many lovely people.
    I can at least thank you, Felix, for adding me to this project, and for managing to make me look so good after having just finished a 10 hour stint as a T3 driver.
    Thank You

  16. Caroline Nash-Smith reply

    I too was a T3 driver based at FDO (Olypmic Park!) for both the Olympics and PAralympics..What an unforgettable experience, with yes the Curzon Street crawl, the Eton Manor retreat, and yet the opportunity to meet and be inspired by so many amazing people.
    Looking at the portraits I was overwhelmed again by the memories and people who made them. Thank you Felix for taking the time out to capture the spirit of the games!

  17. MARION SAUMTALLY reply

    A big thankyou for the gallery of photos taken at the Olympic Depot.Together with the experience of being a 3T the photos capture a visual memory of the team I had the fortune to be part of.What a great team. Thankyou

  18. alexander lawson reply

    I was a T3 driver at the Olympic depot and i would like to thank you for the great photos that you took of us.I felt at times that the T3 drivers and their backup teams were forgotten. Thanks to you and your team we will not be forgotten. Thank you

  19. Kevin Kemp reply

    As a one of the many T3 drivers our main duties were to pick up clients from the hotels and deliver them to the venues, and if we were lucky we had a car full of passengers on a return trip.

    We became known as the Curzon St Kerb Crawlers as that is where we normally started our day in Park lane, waiting for a client. The hours were long but the camaraderie was second to none as we all knew we were doing something special

    I had the privilege of picking up many OIC officials and had engaging conversation with them all, but my fondest memory will be travelling along the Olympic lanes in the rush hour. Never again will I be able to travel from Heathrow to the Olympic Village in a traffic free environment.

    Many thanks to you and your team who worked hard to photo the Games Makers who helped (in a small way) to secure their place in history

  20. Ginette Wheeldon reply

    I felt very emotional reading this, well done to you for turning your disappointment into something so positive. I felt very privileged/honoured that you wanted to take photos of us. You made us feel very special and I am very pleased to be one of the volunteers you photographed. You and your team were amazing. I hope this leads to other more positive experiences for you. I was one of the very lucky people who had an incredible journey during the 2 weeks and it will never be forgotten! Having to sign a model release form felt very special too. Thank you for all your fantastic photo’s. Mine will certainly be treasured as part of the amazing London 2012 experience.

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