Brooklyn Magazine : McCarren Pool Portraits

by Tim Soter

Brooklyn Magazine is featuring a wider edit of my photos, along with an edit of an essay I wrote to accompany them.

Here’s the unedited essay, written this past Sunday, poolside…

The pool is beautiful.

It’s really the truth. It’s so brand-new and shiny and bright blue – I mean it should look like that because it’s a fifty million dollar plus swimming pool in the first few months of use.  It’s impeccably well maintained in every aspect; chlorine levels, possible contaminants… (only white T-shirts are allowed in the water to avoid dyes from running off into the system.)  The pool offers park security as well as NYC police officers – all stationed under shade around the perimeter of the pool, all looking bored and luckily underutilized.  No phones or picture taking/transmitting devices are allowed which inadvertently adds to the great democracy of this brand-new public space.  You can swim, lay out, read… that’s it. It is designed for leisure.  Occasionally a whistle blows but for some light infraction, some minor horseplay. I never hear the lifeguards utter a word.  They don’t have to.  I live on McGolrick Park and it’s an eight minute walk from my apartment and on some hot afternoons I come and swim for a half an hour.  This is been one of the hottest summers on record and a perfect season to relaunch a pool that’s been closed for twenty-eight years.

I made these portraits on June 28th, the very first day of the pools millennial rebirth.  These photos are some of the pioneers who chose to brave a long line and get there before word-of-mouth spread. Word-of-mouth would spread but mostly in the form of snarky blog posts latching on to one or two incidents – amplifying them to a level that defined the space to a public that hadn’t been to the pool or now may never come.  I’d be interested to know, out of the many outlets that have covered the few pool infractions with an over exaggerated tone of menace repulsion – how many of those authors have even visited the pool?  How many New Yorkers who have read or reposted their stories have visited the pool?  I haven’t read a word about the free healthy lunch program for all kids under eighteen.  I saw it on day as I was leaving – kids just held out their hand and got a healthy bagged lunch.  No I.D., no signing up, they just got it handed to them on the way out.  All one even needs to go to the pool are some swim trunks and a lock.  No money, no I.D. and it’s all yours.

The pool has to work.  Would anyone think that a public space that the city invested so much into would allow some disruptions to go unaddressed? Would they allow some bullying to grow and change the design of the communal ecosystem?  Hardly.

The people in these photographs represent the democracy of the pool.  It’s truly not biased or overbalanced towards one demographic – everyone’s here for the same reason.  And like the overall complexity of the city of eight and a quarter million people of all different races and religions and socio-economic backgrounds, everyone gets along so much better in real life than this thing sounds on paper.

As I write this, all I hear the splashing of voices, an occasional double whistle, and a group of kids responding with “Polo” to one lone “Marco.”

-Tim Soter    August 12, 2012  12:31pm