Young, creative and passionate about swimming. Lou Stoppard thought and realized the book Pools – Lounging, Diving, Floating, Dreaming: Picturing Life at the Swimming Pool, by Rizzoli publisher. The book is organized by themes (as the author explains later) and features images that countless photographers from different eras have made of pools, as well as paintings, references from literature to moments in the pool and texts that explore the importance of the pool. Among an infinite palette of blue tones, it is easy to conclude that the pool is the perfect setting for the most varied scenarios. Summer is just around the corner, but we still don't know when diving will be possible, so let us be refreshed by the magic of the pools, with the help of Lou Stoppard.
Where does your attraction to swimming pools come from? Do these have a special place in your childhood memories?
I'm kind of an obsessive swimmer. When I was a teenager, I was a competition swimmer, so I got used to spending nights and weekends by the pool. When I went to university I stopped completely and didn't go back to the pool for years. I started to notice that I had gained some fear of water. I felt anxious where I had no foot and I was scared by shadows in the water. I have a very fertile imagination, so I started to imagine all kinds of horrible things. I knew I wanted to cure this fear, so I started swimming frequently. Lakes, rivers, ponds, pools, I used to enter. Now I swim whenever I can.
How did the idea for this book come about?
I wanted to do this book for years, so I have been collecting photographs of swimming pools for a long time. In a way, it is difficult to find a photographer who has not taken a picture of a pool at some point. And so many photographers took great photographs of swimming pools, famous images, which we all know and like. Stephen Shore and Guy Bourdin are just two great examples of this. I knew that I wanted a mix of photographers (young, older, celebrated, strangers) and also a mix of styles and genres, from fashion to documentary. Part of this was intended to show how the pool has remained a seductive space for photographers, over the years, it is negative to call it a trope, but, in a way, it is. There are several images of swimming pools in the history of photography.
I was fascinated to include works I always loved, like Deanna Templeton's The Swimming Pool series. With regard to the chapters, I would say that the Coming of Age chapter is probably my favorite, it captures the kind of wild feeling you get when you're young around the pool, running and jumping, or of course, the sakteboard in an empty pool. This chapter features images from a really interesting selection of photographers: Alex Webb, Michelle Sank, Esther Kroon, Harry Gruyaert, Alice Hawkins, Paul D’Amato and others. And the cover of the book was taken from a session by Sølve Sundsbø, which appeared in Frank magazine in 1998. It was one of Sølve's first sessions and I always loved it so I was very excited to have it on the cover, even today it is extraordinary , more than 20 years later.
Explain to us how this book is organized.
It would have been easy to organize this book chronologically or by photographer, but I wanted to do something a little bit stranger, something that really captures the satisfaction of swimming, and I talked about the many ways that water makes us feel. So, in the end, the book is organized around moods that have to do with swimming, and photographers are organized in this way; Meditation, Glamor, Mature, Vacation, Sex and so on. Each chapter begins with a quote from a great swimming scene in the literature that reflects the mood of the images. It has a good bibliography; a reading list for people to explore. They are taken from a series 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 long strokes could increase and celebrate its beauty."
What makes a pool a special place? The shape, the location, the decoration, the people who attend it…
I think it's a mix of all of that. In the book I write "It is a place where life happens, where people go to represent, to relax, to seduce, to play – of course the image makers end up there … the pool can be brave, a place of past glory. It can to be sober, silent. It can be a shining symbol of everything you ever wanted – time, style, wealth – or the location of something terrible – abandonment, accidents, drowning. " Perhaps this is a way to answer this question – I think it is a mixture of emotions that can occur around the pool that make it so special.
In this book, you treat the pool as a cultural element. Give us some examples of art, literature or cinema in which the pool has a relevant role and that are a reference for you.
I was very interested to see how the pool had influenced many creatives – from writers and poets to artists and image producers. With my introduction to the book, we included some paintings of pools, by artists like Luc Tuymans and Caroline Walker. I was interested in capturing the variety of ways that the pool has to inspire people. Some are concerned with water, bubbles, splashes. That's what they want to capture. Others like how the body reacts – sinking, floating, fluidity, contortions. Many are there due to the light and the angular shapes of the sides of the pool, the edges, the tiles – such a pleasant symmetry. The attraction of the pool is visual and emotional. It can be used indefinitely, as a set of lines and barriers, or suggestively, as a support for various narratives.
Do you think that the culture of the pool has changed over time and even geographically?
I think the culture around the pool varies a lot, from place to place, age to age, person to person. I try to capture this with a certain irony in the book by referring to the very strict rules in French public pools, everyone has to wear a swimming cap, even bald people!
Have you been working in different areas, what projects are you working on now?
Well, for the past six months I've been very busy, because I released two books: Pools with Rizzoli and Shirley NBaker with Mack. I was also the curator of the exhibition The Hoodie at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, so I am trying to take a break and have some time to read and investigate. I was hoping to swim a lot … but the confinement ended the idea!
What is the most memorable pool of your life?
My favorite pool in the world is the Colombe D’Or hotel in the south of France. It has perfect green tiles and a fantastic Calder sculpture in the background. If I could I would spend every summer.
This book was launched in this unique period when part of the world is confined to the home and, like so many other places, the pools are closed. When the pools reopen do you think the pool culture will be the same? And where will your first dive be?
My first dive will be at Parliament Hill Lido, which is my local swimming pool in London, where I live. It is absolutely beautiful, it is outlined in metal, so it reflects light while swimming. It's like being in a James Turrell sculpture. I hope people are still happy with the idea of being in the pool, swimming is really a great escape. For me, it's like meditating, but better. You can be sociable in the pool, but you can also be really alone, which I love.