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The Cultural History Of The Swimming Pool

July 2018Words by Ms Holly Connolly

House on the cliff, Alacant, Spain by Fran Silvestre Arquitectos. Photograph by Mr Diego Opazo, courtesy of Hatje Cantz

The most memorable photo in The Swimming Pool In Photography (Hatje Cantz, out now) is of a Cadillac that’s been drunkenly “parked” in a Beverly Hills swimming pool. The car, by trick of underwater refraction, is unfeasibly long; it seems to fill the entire pool. Four men look on – one standing at the top of the steps poised to climb in – all wondering what the hell to do to get it out of there.

Ms Joan Didion once wrote that swimming pools were a symbol of “control over the uncontrollable”. She also thought that, far from being a trapping of affluence, pools were ultimately “useful” things. The Swimming Pool In Photography furthers her case for the pool as a functional (and multi-functional) object – from swimmers test-evacuating a sunken plane at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City, to a photograph from 2012 of the pool at New York’s Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel. Abandoned since the 1980s, its dry interior is now filled with graffiti.

As well as artists armed with spray paint, the potential of abandoned pools didn’t escape skateboarders in the mid-1970s either. A combination of drought and home foreclosures meant many Californian pools lay empty in the summer of 1976. Kidney-shaped pools – with rounded bottoms rather than conventional angular sides – had recently taken off as an LA must-have, and this rounded bowl shape proved ideal for skateboarding. You might say that the empty pools of California helped secure the future of skateboarding, which was still then in its infancy.