Young swimmers play in cool blue pools of water during the brief summer season. The days are bright and long, but these sunlit months are fleeting, like childhood itself. I watch them slip through the water: aware, observant, spurt of water, successful or failed spins, dives or other prowesses frozen by the shutter, a moment captured in a frame where they will remain trapped forever.
Water droplets merge with rough edges of rock and cement; somersaults are isolated instances in time—submarine sculptures. We perceive the movement and shape of the distorted bodies, some floating, some struggling, some appearing to drown, some breaking the water’s surface like a triumphant Phoenix rising. Reality and poetry, lights and colors blend in a water ballet.
“Waterlilies” is primarily a loving caress from a mother to her children.
Before I knew what “nymphéas” meant in French, I looked at Sandrine Hermand-Grisel’s photographs of children in the translucent blue and green waters of swimming pools and thought, “These remind me of Monet’s water lilies.” It was that simple really; the connection was that instantaneous.
Monet, Water Lilies II 1906-1907
The figures in the water are obscured by movement as if by brushstrokes. The warmth of the red and yellow swimsuits contrast with the cool green water; the children sometimes completely submerged, other times breaking the surface. The feelings these movements conjure up are different in each frame. Sometimes the figure boldly breaks the surface of the water, seeming to surge up powerfully. Other times, there is just the slightest gesture, a hand or a foot emerging from the water gently. Or the moment when the figure disappears beneath a ripple or a splash, the water sometimes barely disturbed, other times a boisterous splash. There is a mysterious choreography that is witnessed when the photographs are viewed together.
The power of these images lies in their ability to bring us back to our own childhood, to the joy and innocence of play, and also the excitement of the pool. Growing up in the north, my summers were brief and cherished. The days at the pool were limited in the short summer season during which there might only be one month where the heat and humidity would allow us hours in the cold pools.
Monet, Water Lilies, ca. 1915-1926
Her treatment of color is also noteworthy. These images of childhood are timeless because of her muted color palette. They could represent my summers forty years ago or my mother’s summers seventy years ago, but no—they are from the present day.
I let nostalgia wash over me in blue-green shimmering waves. I sit by the pool in my mind’s eye and marvel at how a photographer could take pictures of something so familiar—a vision that pushes me into my past—while simply capturing the joys of the present. Fleeting. This time is fleeting and Hermand-Grisel knows it, as her children grow up and the innocent splashing is set aside for more urgent matters. The underwater ballet of play and the great happiness of youth are immortalized in her pictures. Through these images, I slow down and appreciate something as simple as a water lily and a brilliant summer day.
—Ann Jastrab, Gallery Director, Rayko Photo Center
If you like this series, perhaps you will enjoy Dianne Yudelson’s series Under the Surface or Karine Laval’s Poolscapes. Clearly, the distortions of water hold a deep attraction for photographers the world over.