For the past six years I have been documenting the 1948 British Olympic team. I have met inspiring athletes in their 80s and 90s from all over the UK. These images and stories are to be presented in a new publication by crowd-funding publishers Unbound.
1948 was the last time the Olympics were held in London and the contrast between then and now is stark. In 1948, London was still recovering from war; athletes were truly amateur and therefore not paid. Athletes trained on rations whilst working full-time and raising children; they had to take unpaid leave to compete and many had to hand sew their own kits. When the Games were over, they returned to work and carried on as normal. Nowadays, however, it takes a team of people, including a supportive family, nutritionists, coaches, sponsors and more, as well as many hours of dedicated training, to produce an outstanding athlete. Athletes have near celebrity status and are highly recognizable public personalities.
The athletes who took part in 1948 tell a story of a different age; of youth and of expectation. For some shown here, sport became their lives – but for many it was a pastime that, for practicalities’ sake, they could not continue. For some it was the first time they had visited London, whilst others were well-seasoned competitors. Some were from affluent backgrounds, whereas for others, sport was a chance for bettering themselves. For all, though, sport was a great leveler – an opportunity to learn, to meet others and to travel.
At the same time as drawing parallels between 1948 and the 2012 Olympic Games, I hope these portraits go some way to demonstrate the knowledge and experience of a valuable generation of people who are often overlooked in our society and unrepresented in the media. It has been a great privilege to spend time in the company of such interesting and modest people.
Katherine Green is a social documentary photographer, from East London, who studied postgraduate photography at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Katherine’s work often focuses on documenting communities through photography and oral history, with the aim of highlighting and celebrating people who may otherwise go unseen.
Katherine is currently working on a three year commission for the National Portrait Gallery/BT to document community groups in the five Olympic boroughs in the run up to the Games. An exhibition of her work will be seen as part of Road to 2012: Aiming High at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 July to 23 September 2012.