Our First BT Storyteller Interview: Andy Wilkes on Photographing the Olympics and Paralympics!

Andy Wilkes is a construction worker on the Olympic site who’s also a prolific photographer and social media user. He’s one of the 100 BT Storytellers selected to tell their Olympic stories – more about the scheme at https://www.btlondon2012.co.uk/storytellers/index.php

– Why did you decide to apply to be a BT Storyteller and what does taking part mean for you?

Because I felt I had a story to tell. I had begun my Olympic journey three years earlier in 2008, when I first entered the Olympic site when it was still being demolished from its original state. I had been documenting this in my pictures and thought Storytellers would be a good way of allowing a wider audience to appreciate what was going on inside.

Taking part means that I can showcase some more of my work, and also get opportunities to attend and see events that otherwise I would have had no chance of attending.

– What did it feel like when you knew you’d been selected?

It was very exciting! We knew when the date of the announcements were being made but had no idea exactly when, so it was a morning of constant refreshing of the site and checking of e-mails until the notification came through – and when it did I was very pleased indeed.

– Do you think a big social event like the Olympics & Paralympics strengthens community in the country?

We’ve seen similar during football tournaments and also in previous Olympic Games, but the fact that this one is here, on home soil, will strengthen the community even more. People will be and feel more involved, what with the Torch Relay coming to most towns and cities, and the 2012 festivals being held all over the country in the run-up to the Games. More people will have been touched by the Games here than ever before, and those people will want to share those experiences. And who better to share them with than friends and neighbours?

– You’re very active on social media. What do you think of modern technology – television, radio and the internet – as a way of avoiding isolation among vulnerable people?

I think modern technology is very important in the avoidance of isolation among vulnerable people, as it can carry immediate news and events to people directly into their homes and to their mobile devices. Newspapers only tell yesterday’s news, but a good TV and radio service will keep you informed of events in real time, and can make you feel involved. Even if you are impaired in some way that means you cannot get to an event or celebration, you can still watch it unfold in front of your eyes, or listen to it happening on the radio.

– What’s your favourite story from the Games so far?

The Torch Relay. This has really brought it home to the people of Britain that’s its happening, and happening very soon. It’s all well and good having a countdown – two years to go, one year to go, 100 days to go, etc – but no-one could touch or see those things. Now they can touch or see the Olympic flame as it passes nearby, and the BBC’s coverage of the relay is so comprehensive, you could watch every step of the way if you so wanted to. And people have been organising events along the way of the relay, working together in communities.

– Your pictures of the sites of the Games are very beautiful. How have you experienced the process of changing the London landscape for the Olympics and Paralympics?

I’ve been privileged enough to see it from almost the beginning, when they were still demolishing the old site – and then I saw the new arena, and landscapes arise from the dirt and dust into the beautiful park it is now. And also to see the surrounding areas, like Stratford, Hackney Marshes, and Hackney Wick change too, with improvements to infrastructure and roads and pathways, art being put into place… The whole atmosphere of the surrounding area has changed.

– What are your hopes for the Olympic boroughs and their communities during and after the Games?

That as many of them get involved as possible and that they utilise the legacy after the games. They are going to have world-class facilities and a wonderful park to enjoy, right on their doorstep.

– Do you think coverage of the Paralympics is important in the portrayal of disabled people?

No. I don’t really see disabled people as different, in the same way as I don’t see people from other ethnic backgrounds as different. We are all humans in this world, be we white, black, abled or disabled and whatever is in-between. Although I think it’s great that we’ve given as much coverage to the Paralympics as we have done the main Olympics, as it were – and look at the sponsors, in a lot of their promotions they use disabled athletes in the same way they use able bodied athletes – I can foresee a day when there is no Paralympics, but just a longer, bigger, better ‘OLYMPICS’

– What could be the 21st century’s key message for community?

We are all someone’s Son, Daughter, Mother, Father, Brother Sister, Uncle & Aunt. Look at those less fortunate than yourselves and think, ‘What if that was me, or someone I love’, treat others with kindness and compassion. It’s the small things that matter: a smile, a wave, a cheery hello in the street. A ‘Can I help with that?’ attitude, rather than putting your head down and walking by.

Find out more about Andy at https://insidelondon2012.blogspot.co.uk/,
and https://twitter.com/#!/InsideLDN2012