On vacation in Barcelona, Paris-born photographer Karine Laval was reminded of choreography as she observed the rhythm of swimmers moving in and out of a pool.
Keeping her camera still, she captured them as they came in and out of her frame, waiting for interesting expressions and juxtapositions between the individual and the surrounding urban landscape. This is how Laval’s cinematic body of work, “Poolscapes,” began.
Poolscapes, which was published in 2018 by Steidl, is divided into two parts: “The Pool” (2002-2005) and “Poolscapes” (2009-2012). The first focuses on public pools in urban and natural environments in Europe, and the second on private swimming pools in the United States.
Laval, whose grandfather taught her to how take photos at a young age, has always had a strong connection to water and photography. Her father was a competitive swimmer, and she spent most of her teen years in the Caribbean.
In an interview with In Sight, Laval said that as you flip through the pages of her book, “the vantage point shifts, as does the representation of the pool, whose surface transforms into a mirror reflecting a dreamlike world where the imagination of the viewer is triggered.”
The photos are sequenced to create a fluid visual narrative that submerges and surprises the viewer.
“I’ve tried to explore these different representations and moods associated to the image of the pool and to translate the sense of motion and emotions as if it were a movie,” she said. “The various sizes, positioning and repetitions contribute to create this rhythm.”
Laval’s images leisurely embrace the beauty in the mundane. She captures the gestures of both young and old as they sunbathe, swim, lounge and jump into these watering holes.
“Swimming pools, at least in hibernal regions, connote the fleeting quicksilver days of summer; with their promise of cool relief from the heat, they offer ease, relaxation and joy — feelings that are cruelly ephemeral,” essayist and curator Claire Barliant writes in the afterward to “Poolscapes.”
At points, though, Laval’s work can seem almost joyless, projecting feelings of melancholy and loneliness.
“The pool is a quintessential (and often American) icon of modernity — it is meant to mimic ponds or lakes, natural bodies of water, yet it is utterly artificial,” Barliant writes.
And it is this yearning for something that is most apparent in Laval’s imagery. She takes visual delight in humanity’s primal — and complicated — relationship to water, whether it’s a summer of yesteryear, a warm day yet to come or simply cool relief on a hot day.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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