Public swimming pools are not typically places of solace. There’s a built-in visual and aural cacophony—gleefully shrieking, cannonballing children, chatting teenagers, parents trying to be there and not be there at the same time. It’s not unpleasant; it just doesn’t exactly engender meditative contemplation.
For a sense of poolside peace though, just stare into the images featured in French-born, Brooklyn-based photographer Franck Bohbot’s "Swimming Pool" series.
The photographic essay explores the cavernous public indoor pools of Paris, Bohbot’s native city. They’re emptied of the human chaos, and what’s striking is that when you see these spaces without people (no p in the pool?), the soaring, vaulted architecture becomes the visual draw. The rectilinear outlines and standardized dimensions of the pools highlight the rich variety of concrete and glass structures that house them, an effect which Bohbot exploits to the fullest.
Each space is shot in one perspective, with Bohbot’s steady frame presenting the eclectic architectural features and the uninterrupted cerulean sheen of the pool surface as a litany of patterns, rhythms, and textures. Bohbot tells Co.Design his approach is "cinema, more than cold architecture photography," for its precise direction and composition. "The symmetry, the place, the colors have to look like exactly how I planned before the shooting," he says. "I like to work like a cinematographer and like a colorist."
The decision to depict the pools "empty of human presence" was, Bohbot says, to give the images a more timeless character. He cites as an influence the Düsseldorf School, which advances a "typological" approach to photography. Developed by practitioners like Bernd and Hilla Becher, the objective, detached method tends toward mundane structures and environments as subject material. Bohbot cast an almost clinical gaze toward his swimming pools, subjecting them to a soft, quite sympathetic light, while also refusing to amplify their individual properties.
Even so, Bohbot says he likes to "let some air" into his photos, meaning that he isn’t averse to keeping mistakes or miscalculations (or human interlopers) that arise in the course of shooting. Look closely at the series, and you’ll see what he’s talking about. Here and there, a sole body appears in the disquieting emptiness. A maintenance worker buffs the tiled floor in one image, while in another, a swimmer heads to the locker room. They’re difficult to spot, but they’re there, the minimal human punctuations adding poignant contrast to the otherwise wide-open spaces.
"I can’t avoid the power of the moment showing one little girl lonely in the pool, or one lifeguard on the sides, or of the other few people [whose presence] compromise the photography," the photographer explains. In the end, it’s not the perfect image that interests him, but "the relationship between the water, the architecture and the individual."
Take the plunge in the slideshow up top.