Old and abandoned places that once bustled with fun and activity always leaves feelings of melancholy. Gigi Cifali captures this pensive mood in his series of empty Victorian era swimming pools called Absence of Water. The London-based photographer documented his visits of forgotten and now decaying public swimming pools, showing the once fun-filled structures now decrepit and abandoned.
These public lidos and baths were at the height of their popularity in the 1930s, but slowly lost popularity as living conditions as well as sensibilities shifted. The result was a sharp decline in habitués, and soon the economics of maintaining the public pools became difficult. Some were eventually demolished while others simply eroded from glorious to shabby. Still they are iconic of Victorian social life, are still a source of architectural pride. Sadly, only a handful remains, reminding us of a bygone era and lifestyle.
In every image, there is a sense of loneliness to each photograph, but we also get a glimpse at the fabulous designs of each pool and the grand architectural structures that house them. In Cifali’s website, each pool image is supplied with relevant information on its physical dimensions, attendance records as well as dates of opening and closing. Absence of Water initially debuted at the Ritrovo di Shazar in Italy in May 2011.
Gigi Cifali initially trained as a topographer in Naples and spent much time in the countryside looking through the viewfinder of a theodolite, an instrument for measuring distances. After he moved to the UK, he enrolled in a course in documentary photography at the Tower Hamlets College. He concluded a Masters in Photojournalism at the University of Westminster in 2004. Since 2006, he has been working as an editorial photographer.
His Absence of Water series places public pools in the spotlight, which may not seem like a necessity by any measure. They were however, undoubtedly a source of pleasure and secure physical activity in the water. Families and their children, elder citizens and those to whom a beach, river or lake was inaccessible certainly took much pleasure in these once splendid public lidos.
See Cifali’s Absence of Water series here.