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Impressions Gallery

exhibitions: past

Personal Best

Paul Floyd Blake

24th Jun - 15th Sep 2012

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.

Watch the video below to find out more about the making of Personal Best

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.’

Paul Floyd Blake is a Jamaican-English photographer who started his professional career in photography in 2001, following many years working as a lorry driver and a semi-professional footballer. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, Manchester Art Gallery; Gallery Oldham; Piece Hall Gallery, Halifax; and Folly Gallery, Lancaster. He has exhibited in group shows including the Foundazione Pitti, Florence; Commonwealth Games Manchester, Zion Arts Centre; Ways of Looking photography festival, Bradford; Sports Lab, Weston Park Sheffield; and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, London. His portrait of Rosie Bancroft (featured in Personal Best), was overall winner of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2009, and exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London.


To accompany our exhibition, the new full colour hardback publication Personal Best will interest sports fans, cultural historians and those interested in new approaches to contemporary photography. Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in association with Impressions Gallery, available from the gallery shop priced £20.

Exhibition Resources

Click here to download an information sheet about the exhibition (PDF 292KB)
Click here to download our interview with Paul Floyd Blake (PDF 60KB)

What the papers say

The Sunday Telegraph Seven Magazine (JPEG 900KB)
The Yorkshire Post (PDF 2.2MB)
Telegraph & Argus (JPEG 824KB)

Listen again

BBC Radio Four iPM broadcast Saturday 11 August 2012 - Jennifer Tracey discusses the work in the exhibition Personal Best and the impact of sports funding with Paul Floyd Blake and fencer Ayesha Fihosy
BBC News 17 August 2012 Audio slideshow with Paul Floyd Blake


Rosie Bancroft (Swimming), 2008

Rosie Bancroft (Swimming), 2008

Paul Floyd Blake

Click on thumbnail below to enlarge

Rosie Bancroft (Swimming), 2008 Alex Craig (Fencing), 2009 Robert Jeffries (Kayaking), 2007 Curtis Miller (Fencing), 2010 Rosie Edwards (Marathon), 2008 Lucy Davidson (Table Tennis), 2011 Ashley Facey Thompson (Table Tennis), 2010