Aston People head for National Portrait Gallery

Paul Golby Chief Executive E.On
Paul Golby Chief Executive E.On

13 January 2011

Aston University has unveiled the latest in its series of ‘Aston People’ photographs, taken by renowned photographer Robert Taylor. Taylor’s work is in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Society.

Four of the Aston portraits have now been selected for the permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery together with a fourth portrait of Aston University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Julia King. Professor King’s portrait was originally commissioned by the UKRC in recognition of her outstanding achievements in engineering.

The Aston People project began in 2007, when the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Julia King, wanted to celebrate the achievements of inspirational staff and students through a series of black and white photographic portraits. Members of staff were encouraged to nominate colleagues that they thought epitomised the Aston University spirit. The sitters ranged from post room staff to professors, and each image is accompanied by an interview with each person about themselves and their work at the University.  When viewed together, the photographs epitomise ‘Aston-ness’ – determination, endeavour, innovation, all underpinned by a warmth and friendliness that make the University a truly inspirational place to work or study. The images are now on permanent display in the University.

Robert Taylor was commissioned to work on the Aston People project after he had photographed Professor King as part of the ongoing Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Project, which is organised by the UK Research Centre.  

He was born and raised in Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham the 1950s, but left the city in the mid- 1970s to join the Royal Air Force.  After qualifying as a barrister, Taylor came to photography after working in educational publishing in Nigeria and the UK. He has been a freelance photographer for the last 20 years.

He says: ‘The Aston People Project has actually been one of my most memorable commissions. My encounters with the very wide range of characters involved were fun, fascinating  and often very moving. I am so grateful to all those people who agreed to take part. One of my most favoured working methods is the combining of often striking and intimate portraiture with the individual voices of my subjects, either answering my questions or making some sort of relevant declaration about themselves or the project that required the portraits. The additional element of a ‘voice’ often provides an insight about someone that might get lost in words or images alone, however well crafted.’

The original project has now evolved into a celebration of Aston’s alumni and honorary graduates – whether people at the top of their professions or talented young graduates who are just starting to make a name for themselves in their chosen professions. ... people were selected to be photographed and the first images have been put on display at the University.

Among the new images are portraits of Lord Rooker, Chair of the Food Standards Agency; Sir Paul Golby, Chief Executive of E.On UK;  Lord Hurd, Former Conservative Party Politician and Cabinet Member; Ravi Kant, Vice-Chair of Tata Motors Ltd, and Lord Drayson, former Minister for  Science and Innovation.

In his photographic text, Lord Rooker said: ‘My advice to current and future Aston students would be would be to go and make a difference.’ In a similar spirit, Sir Paul Golby, Chief Executive of E.On UK said: ‘My advice to Aston students would be, believe in yourself, aim high and just go for it.’

Ravi Kant, Vice-Chair of Tata Motors Ltd said: ‘Aston University excels in creating open and creative thinking which enables one to develop into better managers and corporate citizens. Many Aston alumni today occupy very high positions in society both in the UK and outside. Make the best of your time at Aston.’

Lord Drayson said: ‘Having a willingness to discover what life’s going to throw at me and feeling comfortable about that is something which has been at the heart of everything I’ve done, and Aston taught  me that ... what I’ve discovered is that if you do what you truly love you’ll be successful at it and have a happy life.’

For further information about Robert Taylor and his work visit his website at

For further press information please contact Sally Finn on 0121 204 4552 or email