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Creative Connections and Camden’s radical characters at the National Portrait Gallery

© National Portrait Gallery

Creative Connections is a four-year project run by the National Portrait Gallery, connecting young people with contemporary artists to create new responses to the Gallery’s Collection. Focusing each year on a different London borough, this year the spotlight is on Camden. We asked project artist Kate Peters to tell us a bit more about Creative Connections and Camden’s radical characters.

Towards the end of last year I was given the enviable but daunting task of taking on the third year of the National Portrait Gallery’s Creative Connections project. I have been working with young people at Haverstock School, Camden, to create a new series of artworks which you can now see on display at the Gallery.

It was a real challenge whittling down a longlist of inspirational people with links to the borough and deciding which figures to explore in my workshops with the young people. Who would inspire them, who would have something to say to about the students’ own lives and identities? The final list is an intriguing and hopefully surprising selection, a mix of familiar names and lesser-known historical heroes, ranging from Barbara Hepworth to Benedict Cumberbatch, Alan Bennett to Noor Khan.

Benedict Cumberbatch by Spencer Murphy, 2010 © Spencer Murphy
Zadie Smith by Ben Murphy, 2000 © Ben Murphy
David Thomas Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead by Neil Kenlock, 1976 © Neil Kenlock

Being a photographer and passionate about the power of the medium, I have chosen my sitters from the Gallery’s extensive Photographs Collection. As well as looking in detail at some amazing photographic portraits, I have also been keen to explore the history of photography and photographic techniques during the workshops. We’ve looked at silhouettes, worked with pinhole cameras and even created photograms inspired by surrealist photographer and former Hampstead resident, Lee Miller.

© National Portrait Gallery

The students and I have really enjoyed learning about the extraordinary lives of our chosen Camden visionaries. Together we have been uncovering some curious facts about these Camden radicals. For example, did you know that Ed Miliband can (allegedly) complete a Rubik’s cube in ninety seconds? Or that archaeologist Flinders Petrie liked to carry out field work in the nude?

After months of hard work, we embarked on a day at Camden’s Hampshire Street Studios in order to produce the final artworks. We had assigned an object to each of the sitters featured in the display, which we then transformed into surreal props and costumes. Each student was able to choose what role they would like to take in the process: some behind the camera, others inhabiting the costumes and transforming themselves into our radical Camden characters.


We’re all really pleased with the finished results and I’m so proud of the hard work that the students have put in to the project. We hope you’ll be able to make a visit to the National Portrait Gallery soon and see the display for yourselves.

Creative Connections: Camden Radical Characters is at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until 11 October. Admission Free. Find out more here.

Explore the project story further on the Creative Connections blog.