Baghdad, Iraq

Boys horsing around at a pool near the Tigris River. "Those guys were just there. The translator was busy so we couldn't talk to one another, but without words they just did this for me. They gave us free smoothies--the best I've ever had," van der Velden says.

Coonoor, India

A colonial English swimming pool, now owned by an Indian family.

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Construction workers at the end of a hotel's infinity pool. "These are low-cost workers in Bangladesh. They're standing on a really small ledge on the 10th floor. You or I would have fallen down. They build these beautiful pools, but not for themselves."

Cotonou, Benin

Dutch tourist at the pool of a hotel.

Madaba, Jordan

Relaxing at the Jordanian side of the Death Sea.

Mombasa, Kenya

Girls on vacation in a luxury resort. "I didn't talk to these girls; they were just there and saw me taking photos. They loved it. This was a beautiful resort with five swimming pools, fitness, good food. It had everything."

Kabul, Afghanistan

"People react to this photo saying: 'They only have empty swimming pools in Afghanistan; it must be because of the war.' But it's just that it was March and it was too cold. This was their New Year's Day--the city was very calm and everything was relaxed at that moment."

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

A floating swimming pool in the Amstel river.

Nairobi, Kenya

The beginning of a wedding.

Dakar, Senegal

Preparing dinner with a view on the Atlantic Ocean during sunset at the newly built Radisson Blu Hotel.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

"This was in a hotel where I was staying. I had breakfast there at 7 a.m., then I saw these clouds coming. Two minutes later, it started to rain and bridges were collapsing."

Monte Gordo, Portugal

Retired North Europeans relaxing in the sun during winter. "My parents drive to Portugal every winter with their camper. There are many retired people over there; you don't see anyone younger than 55. And they are completely enjoying their old age."

Manizales, Colombia

Night swimming.

Erbil, North Iraq

The preparation of a wedding.

Lilongwe, Malawi

Students at the end of their internship.

Gallinazo, Colombia: property of a Colombian coffee farmer

"The coffee farmer who owned this pool had built a new, much bigger one 300m down the road. I liked this one much more, because it had such a great view."

Near Monrovia, Liberia: one of the pools of the assassinated President Tolbert

"I was in Liberia making a series about agriculture in the city, and I found this pool by accident. You can see that this was a luxury place in the past, but now the luxury is completely gone. The water was so dirty that it moved and bubbled a bit."

Weotinga, Burkina Faso. Two minutes before the flood came.

"I was in Liberia making a series about agriculture in the city, and I found this pool by accident. You can see that this was a luxury place in the past, but now the luxury is completely gone. The water was so dirty that it moved and bubbled a bit."

Co.Design

Countries Around The World, Seen Through Their Swimming Pools

A Dutch photojournalist found a universal passion while on assignment around the world.

No matter how different two cultures may be, chances are, their residents share a love of swimming pools. This universal passion for the chlorinated oasis is documented beautifully by Dutch photojournalist Marieke van der Velden, who has shot swimming pools in every country she has visited since 2009.

Since starting the series, van der Velden has photographed swimming pools in Afghanistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Jordan, Albania, Benin, Portugal, Malawi, Kenya, Liberia, Iraq, Bangladesh, and more. “I found out that in every place I go, there is an unexpected swimming pool,” she says in her artist statement. These tranquil sites let her look at other cultures through an unexpected, liquid-blue lens while on assignment.

“In every country I like to ask my driver or translator where I can find the most interesting, funny, or crazy pool in the neighborhood," she says. "They always look surprised because they think I want to swim or something.” But when she explains that she’s working on a photo essay, they smile and help her hunt down her subject.

The pools are distinct in their designs, but they’re similar in that they all tell stories—some social, others political. Some nod to a turbulent past and others reveal social inequities. While on an assignment about agriculture in Monrovia, Liberia, van der Velden came across one of the pools of assassinated President Tolbert—now, after 30 years, filled with swampy muck. “You can see that this was a luxury place in the past, but the luxury is completely gone,” she says. “The water was so dirty that it moved and bubbled a bit.” In other cases, her photographs tell the often disregarded stories of a pool’s makers—in Bangladesh, she was stunned to see barefoot construction workers standing on a ledge 10 stories above the ground, putting the finishing touches on a luxurious swimming pool they'd probably never get to swim in. “One mistake and they’d fall,” she writes.


For the most part, van der Velden doesn’t swim in the pools. In many more conservative countries, women are denied the option. “To be honest, I'm not a good swimmer,” she writes. “But the most important reason not to swim is that when I do, I can't take photographs. And I like photography much more than swimming.” She plans to continue photographing pools of the world for the next 30 years.

[Photos by Marike van der Velden]

Add New Comment

0 Comments