Welcome to summer: dripping glasses of lemonade, dancing fireflies, and, of course, swimming pools. But within the pool's watery respite lies much more than mere refreshment.
Photographer Karine Laval spent three years capturing the stories that dance beneath the pool's surface. The result is a series called Poolscapes, a sublime, saturated rendering of the swimming pools Laval visited across the country.
Laval first conceived the project as a follow-up to one in which she photographed public swimming pools in Europe from 2002 to 2006. Later, while visiting a friend in the Dominican Republic, Laval spent an evening lazing by the pool, taking in the images that shimmered on the surface.
"I couldn't resist capturing these ephemeral vistas, which seemed to echo shifting states of mind," Laval says. "I decided to start a project in the U.S. that would exclusively focus on private swimming pools, which I see as a symbol of the more individualistic way of life in America."
Unlike Laval's European series, Poolscapes left behind childhood nostalgia (the photographer was born in France) for an American meditation on "the pool as a mental and psychological space, that reveals and conceals at the same time," she says.
Citing The Great Gatsby and John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer," along with Francois Ozon's movie Swimming Pool, Laval says her project at times echoes these other artistic mediums, in which pools represent ambiguity, anxiety, and tragedy.
But not all of the images are morose. Laval's photographs leap between quiet, patient moments of reflection and rowdy, rambunctious musings on play. The mood often depends on the pool she visits, Laval says, noting that her locations varied widely — some she stumbled on while traveling, others were recommended by friends and editors.
"My creative process has always been rooted in observation and experimentation," she says. "I like to welcome accidents, and I approach each project with a good dose of intuition."
While Laval relies on intuition when she's in the field, her post-production is characterized by a more logical, considered approach.
"The process of making the image through editing and working in the darkroom is as important as the moment I foresee a possible picture and push the shutter," she says. "With most of my works, I try to emphasize something one couldn't see with one's naked eye. I try to create an image that can transport the viewer and trigger his or her imagination. The role of the onlooker is very important to the meaning of my work."
This imaginative component can be seen in her latest work, Heterotopia, which echoes Poolscapes in its consideration of the dichotomy between man-made and natural elements.
Laval is no longer actively adding to the Poolscapes series; rather, she is working on a book that will encompass both the new images and her public-pool series from Europe. Still, she says occasionally an opportunity presents itself to make a new image for the series — after all, the best part of summer is you get to experience it again and again.