Hold Still Exhibition Launches

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National Portrait Gallery exhibition spearheaded by The Duchess of Cambridge will open at the National Memorial Arboretum.

The nation’s centre of Remembrance will host a physical installation of the Hold Still exhibition - a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown

The National Memorial Arboretum, in Staffordshire, will host a physical installation of the National Portrait Gallery’s Hold Still exhibition from 24 October to 6 December. Visitors to the 150-acre Arboretum will be able to view the photographic exhibition arranged over a series of large outdoor screens in the site’s amphitheatre.

Hold Still was launched by The Duchess of Cambridge in May, in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, as an ambitious community project to gather photographs portraying life across the UK during lockdown. The final 100 portraits, unveiled in a digital exhibition on the Gallery’s website in September, were selected from 31,598 images submitted by people from all walks of life.


Each of the images encompasses one of three core themes – Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness – which together present a unique record of shared and individual experiences during an extraordinary period of history, conveying humour and grief, creativity and kindness, tragedy and hope.

To capture the spirit of the whole nation, people of all ages from across the UK were encouraged to submit a photographic portrait which they had taken during lockdown. Each image was assessed according to the emotion and experiences conveyed, rather than artistic quality or technical expertise. Judging was conducted by a panel including The Duchess of Cambridge; Nicholas Cullinan (Director of the National Portrait Gallery), Lemn Sissay MBE (writer and poet), Ruth May (Chief Nursing Officer for England) and Maryam Wahid (photographer).

Hold Still includes photographs of 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 both shared and individual experiences, reflecting how despite being universal, lockdown impacted people in hugely different ways.

The display at the National Memorial Arboretum forms part of the UK-wide Hold Still community exhibition, which sees the Hold Still portraits exhibited on hundreds of billboard and poster sites across the country for a four-week period from Tuesday 20 October. 

The outdoor installation of Hold Still at the National Memorial Arboretum is free-to-enter and is on display from 24 October to 6 December. Due to Covid-19, the Arboretum remains open to only pre-booked visitors for the foreseeable future. Tickets can be booked on the Arboretum’s website, where slots are released two weeks in advance: https://www.thenma.org.uk/visit-us/plan-your-visit/covid-secure


“This unique exhibition provides a fascinating overview of how different people and communities experienced lockdown. While everyone was subject to restrictions, no one person’s experience was the same as another’s, as we all battled with different circumstances and changes to our day to day lives.

“We are pleased to have partnered with the National Portrait Gallery to display this inspirational collection of images. Visitors to the Arboretum will gain a rare insight into the diverse experiences of those recorded in the exhibition.”

Chris Ansell, Head of Learning and Participation at the National Memorial Arboretum.