Sunday night saw the Games of the XXXth Olympiad draw to a close with a decent closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in London.
Having the Games in London has been an incredible experience. The atmosphere of the crowds, the TV coverage, and of course the athletes themselves giving their all (or in some cases, not) in the pursuit of Olympic glory.
As the Games has straddled two months, and had such a significant effect on me and by extension this blog, I’ve decided to sum up how it went and what it all means. Sort of a mini monthly review.
For me, one of the greatest things about these Olympics is not that we did ourselves proud competing in them or that we did an exceptional job hosting them. It’s that we did a world-class job hosting them despite the pessimism from many quarters that we would end up embarrassing ourselves in front of the entire planet.
When it was announced, seven years ago, that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, I was elated. Not for any specific reason, since I wasn’t hugely interested in athletics or, um, horse dancing at the time, but just that my country, and my city, had been selected as the best place to hold one of the world’s most important sporting events.
In the media that elation quickly turned to pessimism, as many began to suspect that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off. People expected unfinished stadia, empty seats, travel chaos the likes of which not seen outside a Roland Emmerich movie. Back then I kept up my optimism. Of course we’d do a good job, and there’s plenty of time to get things right.
The years ticked round, and as we entered 2012 my optimism began to waiver. Summer failed to start. London council curfews earnt the city deserved mockery around the world. Only weeks before the Games, the company responsible for security at the event announced that they had failed to wrangle enough people to make sure things could go ahead smoothly, and members of the armed forces had to be drafted in. So-called Olympics Lanes were going to allow Olympic ‘family members’ unfettered access to London’s roads whilst the common people ground to a halt in gridlock.
There was the opening ceremony too. China’s effort in 2008 had been an extravagant display of mass choreography. How could we top that?
When it came down to it, all these concerns were completely unfounded. The opening ceremony lasted so long my DVR gave up and I still haven’t actually caught up with the end (the ‘lighting the flame’ bit) – and without interruption (unless you count the much-derided NBC coverage, which rather peculiarly cut the memorial section to those who died in the 2005 London bombings, something for which NBC can, of course, go fuck themselves). Public transport not only handled the Games, but in many instances was actually quieter than normal weekdays. The sun even shone. And the presence of the armed forces at the Games was simply far, far better than a bunch of jobbers from some faceless corporation. The GamesMakers, meanwhile – of whom my friend Catherine was one – became the symbol of an Olympics well done and the British spirit.
With the erosion of these worries, the country could settle down to enjoy the Games. The opening ceremony was an amazingly British affair that set tongues wagging, full of the British sense of humour and some fantastic music and imagery. Hell, it had Mr Bean, and the Queen parachuting into the stadium. That’s better than 10,000 Chinamen dancing in an unsettling unison any day, and Rio have quite the job to do to top it in 2016 (I suspect that it will be a resoundingly Rio sort of affair with a massive carnival atmosphere compared to our own effort).
(Speaking of Rio 2016, the only time I got ‘officially’ involved with the Olympics is when I assisted in a press conference held by the Brazilians to update the world on their preparations for their Games, because their media centre was at my workplace)
With the first day of competition at the Games came my first opportunity to take some photographs. The men’s cycling road race took place on the first Saturday of the Games, following the same route as the test event last year. If the latter had prepared the Olympic organisers, it had done the same to me and my photography, so I knew what I was getting in for. Knowing what to expect, I was able to plan in advance where to go, and what to try to shoot. It was also a chance to do a sort of photography I’d not done in a while – action. I hadn’t done shooting of that sort since, I believe, May, when I visited Wembley for a rugby match. It turns out, I really love that sort of shooting. There’s something so very enjoyable about having a split second to get a shot before it’s gone, it’s so much more of a challenge than still life or landscape photography.
One of the first images to come out of the Games for me was the one to the left, of the entire men’s field filling the road in Twickenham. And yet, it’s probably one of my favourites. It’s impressive for me because I wasn’t expecting them to be so bunched up – at the previous event last year the pack had spread out more by this point, and there was only half the number of competitors then too. I didn’t have quite the same luck the following day at the women’s race; I tried to use my macro to get something different – the hope being closeups of the riders – but it didn’t work out. My attempt to get an unusual angle at the return leg of the race was hampered by rain.
We managed to get one of our first medals in the women’s race. More importantly, the Olympic bug had bit me. A few days later I took the day off to attend the road cycling time trials, where I got some of my favourite shots I’ve ever taken – and Team GB got gold.
The following weekend, the halfway point of the Games, the women’s triathlon took place in Hyde Park. I hadn’t realised it would be taking place in an open-air, free-to-view environment, so a couple of days later when the men’s event took place I took the afternoon off of work to go and take a look. I had initially been a bit concerned that runners wouldn’t be as impressive to photograph, and I hadn’t been able to prepare like the other events I’d been to, but I’m incredibly pleased with the results I got.
At the same time the Olympics was going on, work was taking an interesting turn. I’m not going to go into any details, obviously, but it did start making me consider my future. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I have aspirations of a career in photography, but have yet to settle down into any sort of discipline. For this blog I’ve shot landscapes, portraits, food, wildlife, sports and more, which is I guess a good way of keeping my options open but not great for specialising or focussing any kind of job search or portfolio.
But, by having such a good time photographing at the Olympics, combined with seeing so many photographers and their images from the Games, it’s made me want to look at doing sports photography professionally.
The motto, and indeed the entire ethos of these Olympics, is simple: Inspire a Generation. For LOCOG, the London 2012 organisers, that probably only is meant to apply to sporting inspiration; hopefully kids and even adults have been inspired to take up sport in some way by the Games (indeed, I now own a tennis racket for the first time in about 15 years). But I like to think that the inspiration will go further than that. The Games aren’t just about sport; we’ve seen that over the last two weeks. I hope that people will be inspired by the fantastic sense of national pride we’ve had over the last fortnight, by the absolutely outstanding BBC coverage, by the human interest stories that helped make some of the events really special whether we won a medal or not, or even by the more technical aspects of the sports to develop an interest in sport science or biology. For me, I was inspired by the images, and by photographing the athletes. I want to keep doing it.
So how can I achieve this? Well, I’m keeping an eye out for unpaid work in this field. I found an odd job shooting a dodgeball tournament near Canary Wharf, but it was a bit sudden and I couldn’t get a resumé together in time. So I’m going to concentrate on writing a resumé and putting together a portfolio, and try to get some freelance work and build up experience (if you need me to photograph a sports day, track meet or the likes, let me know! It’s all experience).
This is not to say I’m giving up the other areas of photography that I love. At the weekend I spent a lot of time photographing my nieces, nephew and other family, which have also proven to be of an inspirational quality and reminded me I still love portraits; I also shot a sunset which reminded me I love photographing just about everything. The great thing is, photographing at the Olympics appears to have put the spark back into all of my photography, so I’m back enjoying shooting many things.
Creative Splurges will obviously be returning a little to normal over the next few days. The ‘hybrid’ post format I’ve utilised in order to get posts out quickly will probably still see use, because it is quite useful for some kinds of posts, but there should be more ‘normal’ posts back too. As for content, I’ve now posted all of my Olympic images, so now I’m going to start working my way through the apparently quite large backlog of photographs that has built up over the last three weeks since I dropped everything to chase the Olympic torch for a day.
It’s been fun. I’ve got the itch. Maybe at the next Olympics, I’ll be there officially.
Thanks for reading.