The prestigious cultural initiative Art of London is back with their new exhibition, curated by the renowned photographer.

Award-winning cultural initiative Art of London is back for its second year of the Art of London Presents Take A Moment 2023, a fantastic exhibition curated by renowned celebrity photographer and artist Ray Burmiston.

Throughout the last decade, Burmiston has risen to acclaim for his documentation of famous figures. Take A Moment is a campaign with an emphasis on mental health, with all the image subjects closing their eyes to highlight that significance. For this year’s campaign, the photographer took shots of hundreds of celebrities, featuring huge names like Tems, Louis Theroux, Alex Scott, and many more, as well as essential public sector works, stars of the West End, and photos submitted by members of the public taking a moment with their eyes closed.

Last month, the campaign was celebrated at the Piccadilly Lights, a sure reminder to the public to put mental health at the forefront of their thinking. The exhibition will be available to the public to view in full at the National Portrait Gallery from 14th September until 15th October.

We grabbed some thoughts from Ray, discussing the inception of the campaign, his favourite portraits, and how others can get involved.

Left: Damien Lewis // Right: Alex Scott

Left: Damien Lewis // Right: Alex Scott

What is Art of London Presents Take A Moment? How did the idea come about?
Asking the artists that I photograph to close their eyes during a shoot is something I’ve been doing for about 10 years now.  It originated partly as a method of rebooting the energy during a long shoot.

Despite the initial purpose, the ‘eyes closed’ portraits became difficult to disregard because they had a certain spirit to them, quite unlike the other images from the same shoot. And when I started to put them side by side, they worked, weirdly connecting as a standalone collection and I instinctively knew that at some point that was what should happen with then, I just didn’t know then how that would manifest itself.

I’ve worked on a few art based projects with a good friend of mine, Lara Journo-Leggatt.  We have a very similar creative approach and we both felt that the images held a sense of calm and that together they conveyed the important message of just pausing for a few seconds.  There was a moment during 2020 when our conversations turned to making a difference and helping people to connect and find a moment of clarity, when the world was turned upside down. 

We were incredibly fortunate to have been able to bring together a very talented team people, both technical and creative, who shared our vision and agreed to work on the project pro bono, bringing the concept to life in a form of a virtual exhibition, where the public could get involved by uploading their own eyes closed selfie.

Lara’s PR background meant we could launch a mini campaign to encourage everyone to get involved and many of the famous faces I have photographed over the years, came on board to support and highlight the campaign via their socials.  It was really quite magical.

Also, just before lockdown, I happened to be photographing Stephen Fry.  I showed him the collection and his enthusiasm for the idea gave us the confidence to make it happen.  He has been very supportive of the project, ever since.

Sam Stagnell, who always had a keen interest in the collection, introduced us to Art of London in 2022 which has since brought the project to Piccadilly Lights and the National Portrait Gallery.

Who are some of the new faces featuring as part of this year’s iteration?
The variety of the artists that are part of the campaign, be they actors, musicians, presenters, comedians, sports personalities and even firefighters, is what makes the collection interesting. 
There are at least 150 new portraits that make up this year’s exhibition which include Brian Cox, Eddie Izzard, Meera Syal, Rylan Clarke,  The Nova Twins, Becky Hill, Stephen K Amos, Gregory Porter, Adam Lambert, Brian May, Norman Cook, Ruth Wilson, Emily Atack, Tom Daley, Ellie Simmonds, in addition to new portraits of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry.

Right: Yungblud // Left: Tems

Right: Yungblud // Left: Tems

What are some of your favourite portraits as part of this exhibition? Why these in particular?
My favourite portraits are possibly the ones of the musicians. I grew up immersed in music and spent a few years in the 80s making records and touring as the lead singer for a band called the Passion Puppets.  Today –  every shoot I do is soundtracked by what the artist I’m shooting that day wants to hear and I feel the music played shapes the whole essence of the shoot and how the images turn out. In fact,  I see photography and music as just different doors to the same room of creativity. My love of music is actually my main inspiration. Because of this, the portraits of the musicians are the ones I feel closest to. The shots of Yungblud, Liam Gallagher, Wretch 32, Biffy Clyro, Nova Twins, Tems and Brian May are all ones I have a soft spot for.  There are also a few heroes of mine in there, such as Rutger Hauer, James Brown and David Bowie. These are special because they meant I actually got to spend time with people that I’ve admired since I was a youngster, which for me is the icing on the cake. 

Where can people view the exhibition and how can they get involved? 
The exhibition lives online on takeamoment.uk and is showing at various times through September and October on Piccadilly Lights.  On 14th September it opens as a physical exhibition in the Spotlight Gallery in the National Portrait Gallery until 15th October.

On the 10th October which is World Mental Health Day, there will be screenings and projections in and on both spaces which includes public submissions. Both of these spaces are incredibly poignant to me. I grew up in Goodge St which is really close to Piccadilly Circus, and I used to play around there as a kid. Similarly, the National Portrait Gallery is THE place that every photographer aspires to having their work in. So, to have my pictures up in the lights and in the National Portrait Gallery is something that I feel very honoured to have been able to do. 

What makes Take A Moment special, is the people behind it.  From the stars who have approved, endorsed, and promoted the use of their portraits to the team of people involved; from Lara who produced and curated the whole campaign through to the social and web teams, and all the people at Art of London and Premier. All their passion for the project has made it what it is and helped convey the message to a much wider audience.  
Anyone who wants to support the idea of Take A Moment can be involved by uploading their own eyes closed selfie to takeamoment.uk.  For a chance to be included on Picaddilly Lights they will need to upload their picture to their own socials and tag @artofldn and @piccadillylights. Their portrait will then become part of the art and part of the rapidly expanding online archive of moments and will help to highlight the importance of closing your eyes, once in a while, to find moments of clarity in the everyday.

All the images we love the best will then be included in the final show on Piccadilly Lights on World Mental Health Day and possibly also be included in the projections in the National Portrait Gallery on the same day. 

Aside from this project, have you any other career highlights?
The creative process can be a bit of a double-edged sword sometimes, in as much as you never get to appreciate the great things you’ve done because there’s always so much more to achieve (even if you’re not quite sure where that will lead you).   However, I’m very aware how many places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and the amazing people I’ve spent time with that would not have been possible without the magic that comes from the little box that I hold to my eye and press the shutter.   I try to have the mindset that the next shoot could be as special as any of the other great ones, and that keeps me enthused about being a photographer and keeps the joy there. So, in a way every shoot I do has a bit of a “career highlight” moment in it. But if I need to choose one – it would be the day I spent photographing David Bowie for Ricky Gervais’s extras.

Left: Louis Theroux // Right: Ellie Simmonds

Left: Louis Theroux // Right: Ellie Simmonds

Art of London Presents Take A Moment 2023: Take a selfie and discover yourself with hundreds of famous faces on the Piccadilly Lights, from August to October. Visit takeamoment.uk.