INTERVIEW : MICHAEL CHILDERS
Legendary photographer Michael Childers’ lens has captured some of the art world’s most iconic figures for a handful of decades. His work is featured in Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982 at the Palm Springs Art Museum through May 27, and we were able to catch a few words with him about his focus on California swimming pools and water culture, and his portrait of painter David Hockney.
Stay tuned for upcoming interviews with exhibition essayist Tyler Stallings and curator Daniell Cornell, and stop by to see the show if you’re in town.
Is the inspiration to photograph in and around swimming pools more metaphorical or physical?
It is physical. It’s about the shade of the blue. It’s about the sunlight reflecting off of it. It’s about the movement of the water. It’s about reflected light. It’s about the bodies in it. It’s about eroticism. It’s about graceful movement, above and under water.
What about this setting distinguishes it from other staged settings, and how does this affect your work and process?
Having lived in California since the early 60’s, swimming pools and oceans have always been an important part of my life. And living in Palm Springs. It is eternal. It is there twentyfour hours a day. Beautiful on a starry night. Translucent during the early morning sun.
Your 1978 photograph “The Hockney Swimmer” is the featured and cover image for Backyard Oasis at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Can you tell me a bit about your iconic portrait of David Hockney (above)?
“David Hockney at Rising Glen” was inspired by one of my favorite photographs taken by Lartigue of his nephew Zazou floating in a raft in a pool in 1911.
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[Herb Ritts, “Richard Gere-Poolside”, 1982]
I’ve been wanting to visit Palm Springs again and I was looking for a reason to do so this spring. I thought that wildflower blossoms might be reason enough, but now there’s a reason I have to go: Backyard Oasis!
This exhibit, part of the mega art event that is Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945-1980,showcases images of swimming pools both on film and in photographs from the mid-20th century and appropriately celebrates them as “an integral part of the region’s identity.” Here’s more from the show’s statement: “These images of individual water-based environs in the arid landscape are…a microcosm of the hopes and disillusionments of the country’s post-World War II ethos. As a private setting, the backyard pool became a stage for sub-culture rituals and clandestine desires. As a medium, photography became the primary vehicle for embodying the polar emotions of consumer optimism and Cold War fears.” Ooh, sounds like the beginning of a rad 50’s B movie to me!
But seriously, the show features over 130 images and they are having occasional film screenings and educational lectures for the duration. They already hosted a symposium in November 2011 and on opening day there was a panel discussion, both of which I am sorry to have missed, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the catalogue. It features essays by Dick Hegdige and Jennifer Watts (among others), on topics such as dystopia, celebrity and masculinity. Whoa, I think I better stop nerding out at this point.
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I’ve actually been following Judy’s blog for awhile now and I’m so glad that GOOD has stumbled onto it. It’s a great visual depiction of swimming in Los Angeles and what makes it so special. How cool that they plan to put up posters around Culver City!!
The public pool is a sacred space for many. In this “great equalizer” of the modern city, you can cast aside workday anxieties for the calming, repetitive act of swimming laps. Plus, you can get almost naked in public.
That’s the takeaway of a new public art project, “The Secret Life of Swimmers,” by Judy Starkman, a Los Angeles-based director and photographer. A lifelong swimmer, Starkman is a habitué of the Culver City Plunge pool, where she noticed the daily metamorphosis that her fellow swimmers underwent upon arriving at the pool. Starkman decided to photograph the individuals that compose her pool community, once in their swimwear and then again dressed for their “secret lives” at work, synagogue, or family time. Her subjects include everyone from a fireman to an academic to an antique flute restorer. “They are young and old. Some are in fantastic shape, but most are just regular people,” according to Starkman.
Photograph by Judy Starkman.