The summer Olympics kick off in London today. To mark the historic occasion, Royal Mail introduces a limited-edition line of collectible stamps that pay tribute not only to outstanding athleticism but to the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
The four first-class stamps visually blend dynamic shots of athletes (a diver, fencer, runners, and a cyclist) with formal images of architectural monuments. The front wheel of the bicycle, for instance, becomes the London Eye Ferris wheel, and the circular path of a track flows seamlessly into the curves of the Populous-designed Olympic stadium.
All of the pictured athletes are elite members of the British team and due to compete. "We wanted to make sure that the sports are represented properly by shooting real athletes in action," says Gareth Howat of Hat-Trick, the London-based studio that proposed the winning bid. (The same outfit previously designed a series of Shakespeare stamps for Royal Mail.) But, he says, that they were intentionally shot to be unrecognizable, to ensure that the stamps were less about individual personalities and more about the games themselves.
But photographing the two elements at the precise angles where they could merge proved challenging. "One of the trickiest was the fencing and Tower Bridge stamp," Howat tells Co.Design. "We had to shoot the athletes first, and we had to make sure that we listened carefully to their advice about making sure the technical side of the sport was represented correctly—the right angle of attack for the lunge was shot over and over to make sure we had the right angle and exact form of the fencer and her arm. Once we had got that, it was a case of briefing the architectural photographer to shoot Tower Bridge from the correct angle so they ‘joined.’ The photographers did a great job and were very patient."
For Hat-Trick, the 15-month assignment required some Olympic-style endurance and rigor. "The amount of work and detailing that goes into these is amazing," Howat says. But it’s also a once-in-a-career opportunity: "Overall its a long process, so you have to keep your enthusiasm going and keep a clear idea in your head of what you want the outcome to be."