Personal Best24. Jun - 9. Sep 12 / ended Impressions Gallery
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Made over a period of five years, Personal Best explores the stories of sixteen young athletes in the build up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The exhibition documents a unique time in British history, and captures the development of a generation of sportspeople as they grow from childhood to adulthood within the intense world of elite sport. This is the UK premiere and first major solo show of award-winning photographer Paul Floyd Blake.
Beginning in 2007, Blake regularly photographed sixteen young athletes across the UK to create an ongoing series of portraits. The young people ranged in age from 13 to 22 years old, and were training to compete in a range of sports from fencing to tae kwondo, kayaking to marathon running. Some sporting careers flourished, such as that of table tennis competitor Ashley Facey Thompson, who has been selected for Team GB for the London 2012 Paralympics Games. However, others faced intense social and financial pressures that forced them to leave the world of competitive sport. Blake continued to photograph all the young people, irrespective of their path.
Blake’s restrained and subtle portraits offer an alternative to conventional sports photography, with its emphasis on dramatic moments of action. Instead, his images pay tribute to the long slog towards glory that is not usually seen or celebrated. Excerpts from the athletes’ own writings offer inspiring and moving insights into their personal hopes and fears. Blake’s approach emphasises the individual’s own story and motivations beyond the values and structures of competitive sport, as the title Personal Best suggests.
Blake, who won the prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2009 and had his work exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London, says ‘I’ve tried to show ordinary youngsters striving to do extraordinary things, as they move from childhood to adulthood. My photographs explore how you remain constant and unmoved in your ambition when, physically and mentally, you are going through one of the biggest transformations you are likely to go through in your life’.
Personal Best is one of the outstanding projects granted the London 2012 Inspire mark, the badge of the London 2012 Inspire programme, which recognises exceptional and innovative projects inspired by the 2012 Games. Seb Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games said: ‘The Inspire programme is ensuring the legacy of the 2012 Games starts now as projects like Personal Best are enabling people in Great Britain to make positive life changes.’
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