“America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” John Updike wrote. Forty-six years later, the first half of the sentence holds. The line is from his 1972 story “How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time,” which begins with a vacationing family choosing a motel. At the top of the list for the kids is “a pool (essential).”
In the new book The Swimming Pool in Photography, published by Hatje Cantz, Francis Hodgson includes iconic and obscure images of sanitarium-style public baths, backyard basins, fascist Olympians, face-lifted starlets, and the odd waterslide. Yet it wasn’t the kidney curves of Beverly Hills that brought back the burn of chlorine to my eyes, nor the steam off an Alpine sauna. It was a handful of photographs showing vacationers at motel pools. Shot on color-drenched Kodachrome and semistaged, these mostly anonymous photographs advertise a seasonal, obtainable version of the good life. The pools, many of which exist within the same space as the parking lot and the row of numbered doors, speak to a moment in America when average people had the resources to travel and relax—and to the temporary communities set up around these roadside oases.
Those who know the tedium of the summer road trip—the nausea, the sweat behind the knees—also know the specific joy of a motel marquee, backlit by the evening sun, bearing those four closely kerned letters. Some say the journey is the destination. I’d trade both journey and destination for the motel pool—not too chilly, not too crowded, within walking distance of a Golden Corral.
Hodgson’s book is a demonstration of how swimming pools are genetically photogenic. Perhaps it’s that a pool somewhat resembles a photograph: a field of glittering action, bordered by white. Or that before digital cameras, to develop a photograph meant to submerge it in a series of three pools—developer, stop bath, fixer. Or that both center around the joys of seeing—light dancing on water, bodies glowing in the sun. Photography might as well have been invented for swimming pools. Read More