A History of Olympic Images

‘My Games’

The ‘My Games’ project builds upon recent research into the visual culture of the Olympic Games conducted by Dr Mike O’Mahony at the University of Bristol. This research, funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, examined responses to past Olympic Games from 1896 to 2008 and resulted in the publication Olympic Visions: Images of the Games through History (see below for more information). ‘My Games’ seeks to expand awareness of the importance of visual culture to our understanding of the Games and their legacy by turning attention to the Games of London 2012. However, rather than foregrounding officially sanctioned images of the Games, the project seeks to gather a wider array of visual responses produced not by professional artists, photographers and designers, but by the general public. In this way it seeks to establish and preserve a unique visual archive documenting the diverse ways that the Games impact upon all our lives. Please feel free to contribute your images. These are, after all, the People’s Games, so let’s preserve an archive that reflects that status.

Olympic Visions

Olympic Visions: Images of the Games through History is the first book to offer an in-depth analysis of images and objects relating to the greatest sports show on earth. Every Olympic festival has its own exciting and memorable moments, many familiar to us through television images or the iconic photographs that celebrate them.  But each Games also generates a wide variety of art works. This book explores how poster artists, filmmakers, architects, designers, painters and sculptors have contributed to this unique global sporting event from the first staging of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 to the present day.

Beautifully illustrated with 116 plates, 40 in colour, Olympic Visions explores the way that visual culture has shaped our understanding of how the Games have evolved and responded – sometimes in highly controversial ways – to constantly changing social and political circumstances.

Each Olympiad reflects larger issues, including the struggle for gender and racial equality, the spectre of international terrorism, the impact of politics (from National Socialism to the Cold War), and controversies ranging from cheating and drug-taking, to corporate advertising. By analysing the pictorial legacy of the Games, Dr O’Mahony reveals how this array of visual material has contributed to a broader awareness of these issues and continues to shape the way the Games are viewed today.

Olympic Visions: Images of the Games through History is published by Reaktion Books, £22.

Mike O’Mahony is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art at the University of Bristol.  He is the author of Sport in the USSR: Physical Culture – Visual Culture (2006) and Sergei Eisenstein (2008), both published by Reaktion Books, and is co-editor of The Visual in Sport (Routledge, 2012).

For a review of Olympic Visions see RA Magazine summer 2012.