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Environment / Water issue

Cifali 1:01Gigi The Absence of Water

Cifali documents the abandoned baths throughout the United Kingdom. Emptied of their original purpose, the immense structures have now become reflecting pools of a different sort.

Oglesbee 2:12 Brian Aquatique Unmanipulated and unaided by the digital toolbox, Oglesbee’s camera records the mystical, watery world before it. Meticulously created and electrified by ripples, waves, bubbles, and patterns, images from his Water Series deserve a repeat look.

Welch 3 :22 David Material World David Welch’s totems of everyday objects serve notice for what our society thinks is important. The way in which he collects and arranges objects invests them with startling importance that we might not otherwise notice.

4 :32 Last Look: our Plastic Oceans Speaking to the “Environment/Water” theme of the issue, Photomedia Center Director Eric Grignol and New England Aquarium Visitor Programs Specialist Sam Herman use art and science to illuminate the growing environmental problem of plastics and its effect on the water supply.

Volume 5 2011

Gigi Cifali Absence of Water

Support for this program is provided in part from an ArtsErie Project Grant, made possible by community contributions to the ArtsErie United Fund and the Erie Arts Endowment. Publication of INSIGHT is also made possible by the continuous support of Joanne and Jim Rapp. Staff Editorial Sofia T. Romero Design Eric Grignol Contributors Lesley Brill Sam Herman Patricia Jones David Rodgers Board Gary Cardot Michael Jones Heather Lipinski Anita Snider Cover: Brian Oglesbee, Water Series 58

Harpurhey Baths Manchester Dimensions 65 ft x 30 ft Max depth 6 ft 6 in Max attendances per day 80 people Opened in 1910 - Closed 2001

This series, “Absence of Water,” intends to both inform the public about and function as a historical archive of derelict lidos and baths in United Kingdom. On a deeper level, it aims to express the importance of water as an element of regeneration for the human spirit. Built in the late Victorian period, public lidos and baths were at the peak of their popularity in the 1930s. Gradually, living conditions and tastes changed, resulting in a drop in attendance, leaving the public pools uneconomical to run. Many fell into decay, and many were demolished. Symbols of civic and architectural pride in Victorian times, today only a handful of them remain as a representation of a bygone era. — Gigi Cifali


Hilsea Lido Portsmouth Dimensions 219 ft x 58 ft Max depth 8 ft Max attendances per day 200 people Opened in 1935 - Closed 1999

Hornsey Baths London Dimensions 165 ft x 66 ft Max depth 7 ft 6 in Max attendance per day 120 people Opened 1932 - Closed 1988


Erith Pool Erith Opened 1972 Closed 2005 Max attendance per day 120 people



Moseley Baths, Birmingham Dimensions 68 ft x 36 ft; Max depth 5 ft 7 in Max attendances per day 120 people Opened 1907 - Closed 2004

The Fight for Water Ahead Patricia Jones

Gigi Cifali’s images evoke a painful awareness of loss for the communities where the pools are located. Public pools may not seem like a necessity, but they are a source of fun, of safe physical activity, of being in water—for children, elders, and families that may not have access to a beach, a lake, or a river. The emptiness of the pools is a visually shattering image reminding us of the fact that water can be lost to us, of our precarious tie to what is essential for our very lives. Communities around the world are working to protect water, and advocating for access to safe, affordable, and sufficient water for everyone. In Mexico, a small community’s water was rerouted to supply a new development, where the homes had private pools. Three women, tired of carrying polluted water from a nearby river to their homes, and tired of requesting the local authorities to restore their water 6

Uxbridge Lido, London Dimensions 220 ft x 80 ft; Max depth 6 ft Max attendance per day 200 people Opened 1935 - Closed 1998

supply, finally took the Mexican government to court. Mexico has legal obligations to protect and fulfill the human right to water for people living within its borders, and these women thought it was time that private pools did not take priority over their families. We see in Cifali’s images a new reality where society has to make choices. Water scarcity is becoming much more commonplace and prevalent in our world because of wasteful practices, pollution, and climate change. Luxury uses such as private pools and lawn maintenance will become a thing of the past as desertification spreads and people struggle to share water resources for critical uses such as drinking and sanitary needs. Cifali’s warning is felt in the heart—after public pools, we can lose water to competing interests. It makes the call for a human right for water more urgent. Patricia Jones is the Program Manager for Environmental Justice at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 7


Tudor Grange Pool Solihull Dimensions 150 ft x 42 ft Max depth 12 ft 6 in Max attendance per day 130 people Opened 1965 Closed 2008 1% re-opening

Soho Marshall Pool London Dimensions 70 ft x 30 ft Max depth 7 ft 6 in Max attendance per day 130 people Opened 1931 Closed 1997

Fields Lido London Dimensions 165 ft x 80 ft Max depth 6 ft Max attendance per day 180 people Opened 1932 Closed 1988

Eltham Park Lido Dimensions 150 ft x 60 ft Max depth 7 ft 6 in Max attendance per day 145 people Opened 1924 Closed 1988 9

Forest Hill Baths London Dimensions 85 ft x 40 ft Max depth 6 ft 7 in Max attendance per day 120 people Opened 1907 Closed 2004



Brian Oglesbee Aquatique

This collection of photographic images, taken from the book “Aquatique: Photographs by Brian Oglesbee” which contains my Water Series images, explores the visual interaction of water and the human figure. For more than a decade, I have been experimenting in my studio with the optics of water and the potency of its visual metaphors. Water is essential for the very presence of life. As a symbol, it is remarkably compelling, especially when combined with an equally powerful icon, the human form. Photography can be thought of as having two distinct modes. In one, the photographer goes out into the world of people, places, things, and events with a camera seeking matter to depict, selecting the subject of the photograph from the surroundings: a “subtractive” process. He or she composes the image by deciding not just what to include, but what to exclude, in the frame. The other mode is to start with nothing and build an image from light and subject in the studio. This additive process is how I make my pictures. Working in a studio, a place where you can have no light, I am responsible for every beam that reaches the film and therefore everything that is visible in the final image. To me, this is a most interesting challenge. The Water Series began as an attempt to see if I could mimic nature in the studio. I had recently done a picture of objects floating in air above a figure. Looking at this image, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to see whether I could make a similar picture with the figure under water. I had never tried to construct a natural-looking water scene in the studio before, but I realized we don’t really “see” water in an optically important way. Water mirrors and lenses, so that we can only see what is submerged in it, floating on it, refracted by it, or reflected in Water Series 6 12

Water Series 127

it. In nature, water is always moving, and its motion relative to the viewer and the light dictates what it does optically. Surface geometry is determined by wind, gravity, and mechanical disturbances (something swimming or splashing). The key is to control the elements which affect the shape of the surface of the water, to create the illusion of a pond, a stream—or a galaxy or a microcosm. 14

Water Series 49

I was pleased with the result and began constructing larger and more elaborate sets. I have endeavored to understand the optics of water as they relate to photographic image-making and to learn to control and manipulate them. Initially, my concern was to attempt to mimic nature convincingly. Along the way, I learned how to build sets and devices that allowed the creation of entirely otherworldly visual environments with wave forms, splashes, and fields of lensing bubbles. 15

Water Series 39

Ideas come from studying what I’ve already done to find new directions and avenues to explore. I use a sketchbook to record possibilities. Most of the time I spend working on an image is in analyzing and thinking about what I’m attempting to do. Typically, a Water Series picture requires at least three “sittings,” and anywhere from 10 to 60 negatives might be exposed before all the elements of the picture find their proper balances. The movement of the water, the light, and the attitude of the figure all have to agree on a unique harmony. 16

Water Series 41

In my photographs, the camera simply records what was in front of it. All negatives are 4” x 5”. The light is generated by electronic flash. What is seen in the print is what was presented to the camera; there is no manipulation of the image after the initial single exposure. In all but one of the photographs in “Aquatique,” the camera, or viewer, is on one side of the surface of the water and the figure is on the other. 17

Water Series 74

Sometimes the camera is above and sometimes below, yet it is always focused on the surface of the water, which I see as a metaphorical membrane, intended to symbolize that which separates—and binds—the physical and the spiritual. —Brian Oglesbee

Water Series 109



Goddesses Born of Water Lesley Brill

The exuberant beauty of Brian Oglesbee’s “Aquatique” springs from its fascinated joy in creation. Its photos flow with energy as abundantly as with water. The universe and the images themselves are born together; the workings of imagination and its outcomes appear simultaneously. Human figures create the world and come into being at the same time; they are goddesses and gods, and the spawn of gods and goddesses; they are feminine and androgynous; they are at once themselves in particular and all humanity collectively. “Aquatique” fuses its archetypal images with those of everyone who dreams. True to the special capabilities of photography, Oglesbee’s camera meticulously records all that exists before it and makes visible the All in which it exists. Pure water can be seen only when it is stirred by gravity or impinging movement, which it, in return, makes visible. As with the creator and the created, energy and matter, the dancer and the dance, the visual equivalence between motion and water is entire and perfect. The waters of “Aquatique” are the waters of life. Water is the most paradoxically enduring of humanity’s symbols of change. Life is change, and you can never step again into the same stream you are crossing now. Water sweeps across, under, around, over, and through all boundaries. It refracts, reflects, and transmits light; it is the “universal solvent.” Oglesbee’s photos comprehend experience simultaneously from outside and inside, on the level, from above, and from below. “Aquatique” imagines a universe not of either/ or but of both/and. Among spirit, matter, and energy, “Aquatique” assumes an intimate connection. It shows us as human in the universe and the universe as human. Divinity signifies identity: I am the world and the world is me. Human in form, the gods of Oglesbee’s photos are the remnants of original creation that can still be discovered in us. They are at once the shape of the Big Bang and its latest outcome. The fluid interchanges between the human and the cosmic are snapshots of the metamorphoses through which everything exists. —Lesley Brill, excerpted from the Foreword of Aquatique. Brill has published essays on the photos of Arbus, Atget, and Brett Weston and books on the films of Hitchcock and John Huston. He teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit. 20

Water Series 46


David Welch

Material World Objects do have communicative abilities, and we give them meaning, investing cultural significance, passing objects from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, like a system of language, where objects can communicate certain values. I photograph assemblages, both created by my own hand or existing naturally, that form monuments, or totems, serving as precarious externalizations of culture and social biography. The photographs of the totems then serve as symbolic mirrors that in turn serve as points of reflection for my own contemplative gaze and that of society. The photographs speak of accumulation and materiality and aim to encourage debate about consumption and the ways in which we feel compelled to consume. —David Welch

Plastic Totem


Laundry Totem


Toy Totem



David Rodgers If, as Jean Baudrillard famously opined in the 1970s, that wasteful, superfluous consumption allows people in society to feel that they exist, that they are truly alive, then according to this view, “Material World” poignantly articulates that consumption is functional, not dysfunctional. Of course, this point is not surprising, since Welch characterizes “Material World” as his “response to our contemporary consumer milieu.” Influenced by the Marxist concept of Objectification, “Material World” explores the relationship between “humankind and nature where individuals manifest their activities into materially existing forms,” and indeed, “Material World” investigates our relationship to the material. “Material World” reconnects the material world to the body. In each photograph, Welch seems to suggest that the body is inextricably linked to material objects, and it is impossible to disconnect ourselves from commodity culture. The body is a commodity, and “Material World” insists we are that culture. And because of this, Welch creates a tension that can be overwhelming. On the one hand, I am revolted and experience feelings of disgust of the waste and excess; however, “Material World” pushes us beyond these feelings to experience a reverence for the beautiful totems of material Welch constructs. Take, for example, the image of the baby holding a handful of balloons that suspend clothing above her head. In this photograph, “Material World” suggests we are born into consumer culture. Further affirming the body’s relationship to the material as the photograph figures the child as a commodity. She is the central object of our gaze and is an extension of the material world that surrounds her. His use of pink is also telling. By trying to clarify the baby’s gender, the piece suggests that material culture can be especially harmful to women who have historically been subject to the male gaze and objectified at the expense of their subjectivity. Tire Totem 27

Above: Beer Can Totem; Across: Shopping Totem

In another piece from the collection, Welch stacks several television sets, some clearly older than others but all of the televisions are functional, which elegantly underscores our excess and waste. While each television broadcasts a different image, in two TVs, Welch summons the iconic image of Ronald Reagan, whose presidency famously redefined American citizenship by equating civic responsibility with wasteful consumption. Under Reagan’s leadership, corporations—which depend on mass consumption for their 28

Above: Neoliberal Totem; Across: Pink Totem

survival—became the nation’s privileged citizens and individual citizens were increasingly conceived of as self-governing consumers. This piece reminds us that the media is the instrument of mass consumerism. From this perspective, we not only consume commodities, but we also consume signs and images, which order and organize our lives. Welch’s “Material World” insists that consumers need to be able to read the system of consumption in order to know what to consume. In this case, viewers consume the image of the president—for the president, this photograph reminds us, is a commodity. In commodity culture, critics have argued that art is now consumed in the same way as jeans or iPads because cultural objects are subjected to the same demands for signs as other commodities and are created to satisfy that demand. Thus art is subject to certain fashion cycles. “Material World,” however, moves beyond the thrall of consumer society, giving us the blueprint to decipher it. David Rodgers teaches in the English Department at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. 31

Our Plastic Oceans Sam Herman

You wake up to an alarm clock, brush your teeth, check your email, have some cereal, and drive to work, stopping for an iced coffee on the way. You have been up for about an hour and almost every step of your day has involved plastics of one kind or another. Your alarm clock, tooth brush, computer, the bag your cereal comes in, your car, the cup in which your coffee is served, they all contain plastic. Plastics are so prevalent in our lives that you probably don’t even think about them. Why would you? Plastic was created to make our lives easier—and it does! It’s strange to think about, but modern plastics weren’t invented until the early 1950s. When you look at how much plastic has been integrated into our lives, it’s remarkable that it happened so quickly. However, the side effects of such widespread plastic use is detrimental to our environment and, in particular, to our oceans. A recent study showed that 267 species are directly affected by plastic garbage, and those are just the ones we know of. This garbage, known as “marine debris,” is indecipherable from food sources many animals depend on. Plastic bags look a lot like jellies, which are vital food source for animals such as endangered sea turtles, sharks and a number of large, commercially important fish. Numerous animals are also known to get entangled in these products, which can be life threatening. The base component of plastics is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Far from “indestructible” as was once thought, plastics start degrading at temperatures of around 86°F, releasing a number of toxic chemicals into the ocean. Samplings of ocean waters worldwide have found a number of compounds that are not naturally found in the seas, and the likely culprit is plastic breakdown. As this plastic continues degrading into smaller sizes, organisms ingest it, affecting small animals at the lower levels of the food web. These base animals are eaten by larger predators and the chemicals are concentrated up the food chain, eventually reaching the top predators—humans. The toxin levels in our bodies are rising drastically as we put more and more synthetic materials into the environment. Not all plastics are bad. Plastic makes possible medical breakthroughs, increased communication, and travel. Living entirely without plastic is pretty much impossible—but there are a number of things you can do to cut back. Getting reusable water bottles and shopping bags, using compostable cutlery, recycling household plastics are all small steps that can add up to a deeper impact.

Eric Grignol Plastic Ocean 32

No matter what you do, it’s just important that you do something. By working to make changes in our own lives and encouraging others to do the same we can make greater and faster impacts than you can imagine. We’re at a turning point—it’s time to make a change. Sam Herman is a Visitor Programs Specialist at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachussets. 33

David Welch Car Totem A non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the creation and exhibition of fine art photography

INSIGHT Volume 5: Water / Environment  

This issue showcases the photographic work of Gigi Cifali ("Absence of Water"), Brian Oglesbee ("Aquatique"), and David Welch ("Material Wor...

INSIGHT Volume 5: Water / Environment  

This issue showcases the photographic work of Gigi Cifali ("Absence of Water"), Brian Oglesbee ("Aquatique"), and David Welch ("Material Wor...