Spearheaded by the Princess of Wales, Patron of the National Portrait Gallery, Hold Still was an ambitious community project to create a unique collective portrait of the UK during Covid-19 lockdown. We invited people of all ages to submit a photographic portrait, taken in a six-week period during May and June 2020, focussed on three core themes – Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness. Over 31,000 submissions were received from across the country, with entrants ranging from 4 to 75 years-old. From these, a panel of judges selected 100 portraits, assessing the images on the emotions and experiences they conveyed.
Featured here in this special digital exhibition, supported by Taylor Wessing, the final 100 present a unique and highly personal record of this extraordinary period in our history. From virtual birthday parties, handmade rainbows and community clapping to brave NHS staff, resilient keyworkers and people dealing with illness, isolation and loss, the images convey humour and grief, creativity and kindness, tragedy and hope – expressing and exploring both our shared and individual experiences.
Enter the online exhibition and see the photographs collectively (in no particular order) and then discover the fascinating stories behind the pictures through the words of the entrants themselves. The photographs were also on display across the UK in autumn 2020 as part of a special community exhibition, and shown in a digital exhibition in the grounds at the National Memorial Arboretum – find out more below.
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Please note this exhibition includes text and images recording people’s experiences during the pandemic, which some visitors might find upsetting. If you have been affected by any of the issues reflected in the exhibition, and feel you need support, please explore our suggested sources of support.
Stories shared across the country
The stories of Hold Still travelled around the country, where five of the portraits were at several regional venues.
Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020
Hold Still book
A unique record of the project
Featuring an introduction from the Princess of Wales, this publication, supported by Co-op, includes the one hundred portraits selected for the Hold Still exhibition, creating a unique record of our shared and individual experiences during this extraordinary period of history. Each of the photographs is accompanied by the story behind the picture told through the words of the entrants, offering a highly personal perspective on this unprecedented time. The publication also includes photographs of the nationwide exhibition and a text by judge Lemn Sissay.
The net proceeds from the sale of the book will be equally split to support the work of the National Portrait Gallery and Mind, the mental health charity (registered 219830).
The Duchess of Cambridge speaks with entrants
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the launch of Hold Still and the launch of the publication Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020 we were delighted to share with you a series of telephone calls that the Princess of Wales held with participants from the project.
A nationwide display
The Hold Still Community Exhibition
The final 100 portraits were displayed in towns and cities across the UK during October and November 2020. The photographs featured on hundreds of posters and billboards up and down the country, including in the hometowns of many of the entrants. The exhibition was supported by the Co-op and a selection of the photographs could also be seen on community screens in Co-op food stores across the UK. All 100 works were also on show in a digital exhibition in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire from 24 October to 6 December 2020.
The community exhibition was made possible by support from the Co-op.
The selection process
Discover how the 100 final portraits were chosen
A selection panel, including the Princess of Wales, National Portrait Gallery Director Nicholas Cullinan, the author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, the Chief Nursing Officer for England Ruth May, and award-winning photographer Maryam Wahid, met via a video call in July 2020 and undertook the challenging process of selecting 100 portraits for the exhibition. See highlights from the judging session and read insights from the panel about their experience.
Explore special themed highlights
Entrants were invited to submit a photographic portrait, which they had taken during lockdown, focussed on three core themes – Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness. Explore these themes and a selection of works chosen by the Gallery’s Director, and Hold Still judge, Nicholas Cullinan.
100 final portraits
Digital exhibition supported by international law firm and long-time sponsor of the National Portrait Gallery