The Quiet Beauty Of London’s Olympic Arenas, Before The Medals And The Masses

Janie Airey’s photographs prove that the most stunning lines at the London Olympics might not’ve been the ones defining Ryan Lochte’s six-pack.

It stands to reason that the recent Summer Games in London were the most photographed Olympics in history. Aside from all the people actually getting paid to take pictures, the opening night’s Parade of Nations proved that even the athletes couldn’t resist snapping smartphone shots of the pomp. But while most of the photographs taken over the course of those few weeks captured images of athletes and events, Janie Airey went to London to document a slightly different subject: the Olympic arenas themselves, untouched and utterly beautiful.


Airey says that the Olympic Delivery Authority commissioned the photos just prior to the park opening, though last-minute preparations meant she had limited access to some of the venues. But you wouldn’t know it from her shots; here, the arenas look perfectly complete and event-ready. But the feeling they evoke is one that’s very much at odds with the raucous affair we see on TV. Through Airey’s lens, spaces like the Aquatics building, designed by Zaha Hadid, are still and serene, able to exhibit their own personalities without yet being dominated by those of the athletes.

“Ninety-five percent of my work is photographing people,” Airey says, “so it was very refreshing to go into a space and just have to think about the line and form and working with what was already there. I loved the silence of the buildings. The spaces seemed a little austere and quite clinical, such a contrast to how they’d be a month or two later.” The artist says she hoped to convey, even with the stillness, a bit of “anticipation” of the events to come.

The Olympics are truly epic undertakings–“amazing events on a grand scale,” as Airey describes them–and in terms of pure logistics, the venues have to be built to match, with precisely sized pools, rows of spectator stands, and, of course, places for photographers and TV crews to capture all the action. But not even those in-the-flesh spectators, much less the millions around the world watching on TV and the web, get to really experience the spaces on their own terms. As Airey explains, “You rarely get the chance to appreciate the quiet of the actual architecture. I wanted the photos to reflect that a bit.”

See more of Airey’s work on her site.

[Hat tip: It’s Nice That]