For Setting Out, the first phase of the Road to 2012, Bettina von Zwehl’s still, strong portraits depicted athletes at different stages of their career in a setting where they live or train.
Von Zwehl (b.1971) began making portraits as a student at the Royal College of Art. She adopted the traditional nineteenth-century studio methodology that she had first encountered as photographer’s assistant in Rome, working on 10” x 8” film with a large-plate camera. This slow, quiet process and the descriptive power of the format give her images an extraordinary intensity. Since graduating in 1999 von Zwehl’s work has been collected and exhibited internationally. Her first book was published in 2007. For this commission von Zwehl was invited to make a series of portraits on location and give the viewer a sense of personal encounter with her sitters. Inspiration marks the beginning of an athlete’s journey to the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Gallery’s accompanying interviews, in which the sitters speak about their own inspiration, are integral to the display.
Travelling across the country with her assistant and husband David Robinson, von Zwehl photographed the athletes in settings where they live or train. Robinson’s control of light and von Zwehl’s concentrated engagement with her subjects result in meditative observations of face, mood and physique.
Bettina was interviewed in the Portrait Restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery.