The series “Water Park” was made over the course of two summers and features water parks in southern Brazil. These huge theme parks are open exclusively during the vacation season for the contentment of middle-class Brazilian families. They are environments of collective catharsis, where physical inhibitions are forgotten, and vanity (as well as fragility) are exposed. It’s a place where the outside world is left behind in the time it takes for a summer day to pass by…
I was born and raised in the southernmost part of Brazil, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. All of the water parks I shot are located by major roads; every time I took a vacation with my family, we would drive by a couple of them. The monumentality and singularity of these water parks—with their crazy mix of dinosaurs, dragons, and mythology—caught my attention. As a kid I would visit these parks at least once a year, but at that time, they were much simpler. Nowadays, they are fantastical and flamboyant, perhaps in an attempt to captivate the youngest generation.
I believe this project allows for several distinct readings. For some people, “Water Park” is about bodies, vanity and fun. For others, is about irony. Some see it as a portrait of the growing Brazilian middle class. I named this series simply “Water Park” because I didn’t want the title to restrict the viewer’s interpretation or indicate a way to read the photos.
For this series, I used an analog Hasselblad, which is quite big and showy—not exactly a fast or discreet camera to work with. The thing that I most like about shooting with this camera is that I have to approach people and ask for permission. I like that. If they say yes, we usually have a very quick exchange. I like this directness; I think it translates to how they pose for the camera. I think both fragility and vanity are extremely connected to the self-consciousness that arises when someone takes your picture.
I would say that most of the irony in this work comes from my ironic way of observing myself and everyday life. We humans are funny beings, and a lot of visual poetry comes out of our natural behaviors. This is especially true when it comes to fun environments and places where we set our bodies and minds free. These water parks are so over the top that they have the power to deconstruct a more serious self-image; they also challenge the social roles we tend to play in our lives.
In this little water world, guarded against the outside world by dinosaurs and fantastical creatures, I am allowed to escape some of my own inhibitions. We all have universes inside us that make themselves known when we are not self-aware. When I take a photo of someone, I am teasing and prodding their self-consciousness. This confrontation fascinates me, and I find the tension is especially apparent when both subject and photographer are wearing bathing suits—we are both vulnerable and bare. This dynamic mini-world is filled with human interactions, many of which—when you really look at them—are not so serious.
—Roberta Sant Anna
If you enjoyed this article, you might like one of these previous features: Paradise Now, Ryan Koopman’s dizzying series on hyper-modern cities around the world; Happier Days in Kiev, images from Hidropark, an entertainment complex surrounded by Ukraine’s Dnieper River; and The Dwarf Empire, Sanne De Wilde’s documentation of “Kingdom of the Little People,” an amusement park in China with a controversial theme.