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Hold Still Portrait Exhibition - Review

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer specialising mainly in health and education and living in Staffordshire. Find me on Linked In
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Exhibition of 100 photos capture coronavirus lockdown
The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire has an added attraction for its visitors to admire and enjoy - but you only have a few weeks in which to view it. A selection of 100 personal and poignant images reflecting life during the coronavirus lockdown is being screened at the Arboretum until December 6. They are 'on loan' from the National Portrait Gallery in London, which held a nationwide competition at the height of the lockdown period that forced many vulnerable people to self-isolate - and also put huge pressure on frontline NHS services. The National Portrait Gallery, founded more than 150 years ago, urged members of the public to take and send in photos showing how they were coping during lockdown, which began at the end of March.

National Memorial Arboretum, Hold Still
One of the poignant images in the Hold Still exhibition

The huge community challenge, spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge in May, resulted in more than 31,000 images being sent in. All the entries had to reflect one of three central themes, namely Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal, and Acts of Kindness. The outcome was an online exhibition comprising just 100 of the photos, entitled 'Hold Still', which included both colour and black and white pictures ranging from a man dressed as comic book hero Spiderman entertaining children in the street to a woman having to celebrate her 100th birthday on her own due to Covid isolation. The digital exhibition, which has been on the National Portrait Gallery's website since September, is now going on tour.

National Memorial Arboretum, Hold Still
The exhibition can be found within the Arboretum's amphitheatre

And that has resulted in the 'Hold Still' exhibition going on display at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, near Lichfield, from October 24 to December 6. The 100 final photos, reflecting all aspects of life in lockdown, from clapping for carers to the sadness of loneliness, are being displayed within a physical installation in the Arboretum's amphitheatre, which was created at the rear of the chapel. The images are shown on a loop on a giant screen, with each photo bearing a title plus the name of the person who took the photo. Four smaller screens, two either side of the main installation, also display the same 100 images on a continuous. Two socially distanced benches have also been installed at the entrance to the amphitheatre for people to watch the photos at their leisure.

National Memorial Arboretum, Hold Still
The exhibition reflects the role of key workers

The 'Hold Still' exhibition, which was compiled by a judging panel that included the Duchess of Cambridge, is extremely thought-provoking and provides a historical record of a unique period that affected everyone's life. The 'winning' photos were chosen for the emotion, both sadness and joy, that they conveyed rather than artistic quality or technical expertise. They included poignant images ranging from vulnerable people having to be shielded from loved ones to key workers such as nurses and bin men helping to keep their community, and the country, going during the crisis.

National Memorial Arboretum, Hold Still
Life in lockdown reflected in people's pictures

Included in the Hold Still exhibition is a photo of Captain Tom Moore, who raised almost 33 million for the NHS by walking laps of his garden in the lead up to his 100th birthday. He was later recognised for his amazing efforts with a knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen.

National Memorial Arboretum, Hold Still
Images judges on emotion they convey

The exhibition is free for people to enjoy. However, admission to the Arboretum, which is the UK's year-round centre of Remembrance, and contains nearly 30,000 trees and almost 400 memorials, costs 4 per normal sized car. The number of visitors to the Arboretum is currently being restricted due to the need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

National Memorial Arboretum, Hold Still
Shielding during lockdown

All bookings for the Arboretum have to be made online by visiting
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Why? Poignant photo exhibition reflects life during lockdown
When: 24 October to 6 December
Phone: 01283 245100
Where: National Memorial Arboretum, Croxall Road, Alrewas, Staffordshire DE13 7AR
Cost: Free, but 4 per car to visit Arboretum
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