By Mark McConville
THESE SURREAL images taken in Soviet-era facilities have captured such strange looking scenes published in a new book that you might be put off visiting your local swimming pool.
The unsettling photographs show groups of young swimmers in bright swimsuits standing out in perfect synchronisation against the backdrop of white and pale blue.
The striking shots show the swimming lining up to dive into the pool, sitting around in groups and performing stretches on the tiled floor.
The strange pictures are showcased in Slovakian artists Mária Švarbová’s new book, Swimming Pool.
“The figures are mid-movement, but there is no joyful playfulness to them,” says Sarbova’s artist statement about the project.
“Frozen in the composition, the swimmers are as smooth and cold as the pools tiles. Despite the retro setting, the pictures somehow evoke a futuristic feeling as well, as if they were taken somewhere completely alien.”
The Swimming Pool is Sarbova’s largest and continuing series. She uses the Soviet-era pools in her native Slovakia to provoke the feeling of joylessness in a traditionally joyful setting.
“Sparked by a hunt for interesting location in Slovakia, her fascination with the space of public swimming pools contributed to developing her visual style,” according to her publisher.
“Sterile, geometric beauty of old pools, usually built in the Socialist Era, set the tone for these photographs. There is almost a theatrical quality to the highly controlled sceneries that Maria captures.
“The figures are mid-movement, but there is no joyful playfulness to them. Frozen in the composition, the swimmers are as smooth and cold as the pools tiles. The colours softly vibrate in a dream-like atmosphere.
“Despite the retro setting, the pictures somehow evoke a futuristic feeling as well, as if they were taken somewhere completely alien.”
Each scene she photographs is highly controlled, from the subjects of her works to the bright colours and dramatic shadows that compose each shot.
“Maria’s distinctive style departs from traditional portraiture and focuses on experimentation with space, colour, and atmosphere,” continued the publisher.
“Taking an interest in Socialist era architecture and public spaces, Maria transforms each scene with a modern freshness that highlights the depth and range of her creative palette.
“The human body throughout her oeuvre is more or less a peripheral afterthought, often portrayed as aloof and demure rather than substantive. Carefully composed figures create thematic, dream-like scenes with ordinary objects.
“Her images hold a silent tension that hint at emergent possibilities under the lilt of clean and smooth surfaces. There is often a sense of cool detachment and liminality in Maria’s work. Routine actions such as exercise, doctor appointments, and domestic tasks are reframed with a visual purity that is soothing and symmetrical and at times reverberant with an ethereal stillness.
“The overall effect evokes a contemplative silence in an extended moment of promise and awareness—a quality difficult to achieve in the rapid pace of modern life. Maria’s postmodern vision boldly articulates a dialog that compels the viewer to respond to the mystery, loneliness, and isolation of the human experience.
“Nevertheless, deeply embedded within the aqueous pastels, Maria’s compositions hold to a celebratory elegance that transforms the viewer’s gaze into an enduring reverence for life’s simple beauty.”