Picturing Life at the Swimming Pool

General / People / Places / Products / April 20, 2020

What could be more appealing in a time of pandemic than a leisurely tour of the world of summer and swimming pools? In her second book from Rizzoli, Lou Stoppard offers the promise of sunshine and youth in her book called “Pools,” along with offers some of the best swimming-pool photography possible – some of it reaching back to the 1930s. A+A recently interviewed her via email:

Why pools?
I’ve wanted to do this book for years, so I’ve been collecting great pool photographs for a very long time. In a way, you are hard-pressed to find a photographer who hasn’t made a pool image, at some point, at some time. And so many photographers have made really great pool images – famous images that we all know and love. Stephen Shore and Guy Bourdin are just two good examples of that. I knew that I wanted a real mix of photographers (young, old, celebrated, and unknown) and also a mix of styles and genres, from fashion through to documentary. Part of this was to show the way that the swimming pool has remained a seductive place for photographers, as years have passed – it sounds negative to call it a trope, but in a way, it is. Pool pictures litter the history of photography.

The book’s inspiration?
I am something of an obsessive swimmer. As a teenager, I was a competitive swimmer, so I got used to spending evenings and weekends at the pool. I write about this in the book; “I trained myself to respond instantly to the sound of the gun––I learned never to dawdle. I learned the strange body arcs required of butterfly, the flicks of the tumble-turns, the fearlessness needed to keep on holding your breath, just for one more stroke, one more reach, one more second.” When I went to university, I stopped swimming entirely and I didn’t get back into the pool for years. I started to notice that I’d become slightly fearful of water. I felt anxious in the deep end, and very aware of other forms or shadows. I have a very overactive imagination, so I managed to picture all kinds of horrible things. I knew I wanted to cure that fear – so I started swimming constantly. Lakes, rivers, ponds, pools – I’d get in. Now I swim whenever I can.

Its scope?
I was keen to show that the pool is a place that photographers have returned to again and again, so there is a huge mix of images featured, from well-known names to new talents. There are images from the 1930s by greats such as Edward Steichen and Louise Dahl-Wolfe, amazing 1980s images by Harry Gruyaert and Arthur Elgort and then thrilling recent work by Deanna Templeton and Alice Hawkins. The book’s cover image is taken from a shoot by Sølve Sundsbø, which appeared in Frank magazine in 1998. It was one of Sølve’s early shoots and I’ve always loved it so I was so thrilled to have it as the cover – it still looks great today, over twenty years on.

In terms of locations, there’s also a great mix. Of course, there are lots from California, but there are also German public pools, French hotel pools, Korean leisure centers, and much more. It would have been easy to organize the book chronologically or by photographer, but I wanted to do something a bit weirder, something that really captures the joy of swimming, and spoke of the myriad ways water can make you feel. So in the end the book is organized around moods of swimming, and photographs are grouped that way; Meditation, Glamour, Coming of Age, Holiday, Sex, and so on. That way, we could look at different ways the pool can be seen – as a backdrop for subplots (pool parties, style, and sex) or as a state of mind, or even a set of angles and lines. Each chapter starts with a quote from a great swimming scene in literature that echoes the mood of the images. It’s a nice wandering bibliography; a reading list for people to go away and work through. They are taken from a range of books and stories – The Great Gatsby, Cassandra at the Wedding, The Line of Beauty, and, of course, The Swimmer by John Cheever; “The day was beautiful and it seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.”

Target audience?
I hope it’s mixed – anyone who loves swimming will hopefully love the book. And I’m sure photography fans will be inspired. People who love both swimming and photography are particularly well served!

For more, go here.

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Michael Welton




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