Back in May, The Duchess of Cambridge, in her position as Patron of the National Portrait Gallery, launched the Hold Still project to “create a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown” by inviting people across the UK to submit portraits taken between May and June in three categories: Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal, and Acts of Kindness.
The NPG received over 31,000 portraits from people aged 4-75. The 5-person judging panel – Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery; The Duchess of Cambridge; Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England; Lemn Sissay MBE, writer and poet; and Maryam Wahid, photographer – chose 100 portraits to feature in the virtual exhibit. You can read more about the project here.
I think this Hold Still project is a great one, and I think that it provides such a snapshot of our world right now. My only quibble is that I wish there had been even more photos in the exhibit.
You can view the entire exhibit here – I’m including a few of the ones that touched me the most; some of these really made me tear up.
“This is what broken looks like” by Ceri Hayles Bridgend.
This is what broken looks like. This is operating for 3 hours in full PPE. This is dehydration. This is masks that make your ears bleed because the straps have slipped and you daren’t touch them. This is fighting an invisible enemy that becomes more visible each day. This is a face I never thought I’d show the world, but one which I wear more and more. I took this photo to have as a reminder of how far I’d been capable of pushing myself when I needed to. I sent it to my family to tell them what a hard day it had been and they were all so shocked by it. The person they know as being so well put together, always wearing a smile, was not the person they saw that day. Looking back on it now, I feel immensely proud of the commitment shown by myself and my colleagues to provide safe care for patients, even in the depths of a pandemic. We still wear full PPE for all of our cases, and you never get used to it, but I know we’ll keep doing it for as long as it is needed.NPG
“The Look of Lockdown” by Lotti Sofia London.
This is my lockdown pal, Pepter. Lockdown has forced a large majority of us into mandatory stillness. Some may see this as a blessing, and others a curse, because limited activities means limited distractions from our thoughts, worries and ultimately ourselves. This picture is a representation of our daily dose of daydreaming that we do while we watch the world go by without us. Be kind to yourselves during lockdown and use this stillness to explore any uncomfortable feelings that may have arisen. They have probably always been there but only now have we got the time and space to truly acknowledge them and listen. We’ve felt lonely, sad, worried, confused, anxious and everything in between, but we are grateful for every key worker, our health, and for the humanity and empathy that has grown out of this dreary time.NPG
“Forever Holding Hands” by Hayley Evans.
My grandparents, Pat and Ron Wood, were married 71 years ago on St George’s Day. In May 2020 they were admitted a week apart to the Covid ward at Worthing Hospital. At first they were nursed separately, but were soon reunited. Kind staff pushed their beds together and gave them their own room. They spent their final days exactly where they were meant to be and exactly how they had spent the last 71 years… together. Pat passed away in her sleep, lying next to her dear Ron and he followed her five days later. Together, forever holding hands.
They appreciated the tiny things and took nothing for granted. The ability to touch when they had so little left was a gift. It was the only way to show their love and devotion. I took this photo with gloved hands looking through a visor. It gives me so much comfort to know, in a world where we have to distance ourselves from each other that they had everything they ever wanted in the palm of their hands. This was the last time I saw them.NPG
“Akuac” by Anastasia Orlando.
This is Akuac. I met her at Black Lives Matter protest at the U.S Embassy in London and asked to take her picture, so she took off her mask and stood for me. We’ve been friends since and I hope we will be for many years to come. Her strength and spirit is beautiful and unique. For me, the image reminds us that all of ours are. Every single one. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. The countless others that we know of and that we don’t. I hope that the new normal after COVID-19 is kindness, equality, compassion, love. I hope the new normal is really seeing what’s important-looking after each other and the planet. If this pandemic has taught us anything it must be that all we need really is the wellbeing of our loved ones. It wasn’t shopping centres, or flights around the world or buildings that we were used to socialising in that we really missed in lockdown – it was humans. Our human connection is the most important thing we have. I hope that we can keep this feeling going far beyond 2020.NPG
Upon release of the exhibit, The Queen sent out a message of support for the project and to everyone who submitted a portrait.
It was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to look through a number of the portraits that made the final 100 images for the Hold Still photography project.
The Duchess of Cambridge and I were inspired to see how the photographs have captured the resilience of the British people at such a challenging time, whether that is through celebrating frontline workers, recognising community spirit or showing the efforts of individuals supporting those in need.
The Duchess of Cambridge and I send our best wishes and congratulations to all those who submitted a portrait to the project.