Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trois Nageuses Françaises

Trois Nageuses Françaises

Here’s a little French tease for you. Today I shot three gorgeous swimmers who are all best friends and wonderful ladies.  They all happen to be French. 

You can tell, no?

Yes, they took their coats off, but you’ll have to check back after I finish their series to see their images which will hopefully be next week!   

After the shoot, I had the pool to myself! That was my dream come true. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nina Shorey

Eventually it will happen to you or someone you know.  A day will come when a pool somewhere will summon you and you will find yourself inexplicably drawn to the water and what it can do for you.

I can tell you, there are many reasons to swim. I see so many different kinds of swimmers at the pool enjoying themselves for various reasons. Some are professional athletes, some are even former Olympians. Some come for regular exercise and to socialize. And there are many who use the pool as therapy to overcome a serious injury. 

Even the greatest hydrophobic can overcome the terror of the water once you realize how magical it really is.

Skeptical? Meet Nina Shorey.

What if your only dream in life was to be a professional dancer. You worked steadily at the dream, and by the time you were twenty-eight, you were well on your way.  Let's also say you are also a single mother of a five year old.  

Then, one day, everything changed in an instant.   Your dream, along with your body would be shattered in seconds on a lonely stretch of highway in Nova Scotia.  A driver, hypnotic from the rotating sound of the tires on the pavement and sleepy from the warm sun shining down through the window, would drift asleep at the wheel of her car and careen directly into yours. You would be lucky to survive.  

This is exactly what happened to Nina Shorey 28 years ago.  

Nina’s journey to the pool was a long time coming. She arrived at the hospital, technically dead and spent four month in the hospital, and, as she told me, ‘had various parts cobbled back together.” There would be years of surgeries to follow.  Needless to say, her life took a very different turn.

She began working with a dance acquaintance who repaired vintage flutes. David Shorey was a musician and flute historian who would travel regularly to Europe. He worked at the Library of Congress, and he taught Nina how to handle and repair the instruments.

The first thing you notice about Nina, is her quick smile and many tattoos. The second thing you notice are the long scars running down the sides of her legs from the hip replacement surgeries she needed after being crushed in her car.  

Perhaps as a way to begin to understand and accept what happened to her, Nina became an astrologer. She told me the tattoos are astrological symbols she strategically placed on her body to bring certain energies to areas that still plague her with pain.  Each tattoo represents a surgery or a scar, and there are quite a few. The one on her solar plexus is meant to help heal her ongoing pain from the heart surgery she had so many years ago.

A second hip replacement surgery in 2004  resulted in the accidental damaging of her femoral nerve, and that’s what left her unable to walk for two years. But she could swim.  It turned out to be the one thing that enabled her to walk again.  

And this is what I mean about the magic of water. Now, she swims five days a week at the pool. I see her strutting out to the deck in her colorful bikinis, talking with her friends.

She lives happily as an antique flute restorer with her now-husband, David whom she married many years ago. Together they had another son. 

One more thing.  To this day, Nina doesn’t drive, preferring to ride her bike to the pool each day.

Nina Shorey
Antique Flute Restorer 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jason Christopher

Jason hops out to the deck of the pool, smiling, proud and without the aid of his prosthetic leg or any crutches. As a personal trainer, and a natural athlete he has a strong sense of balance and endurance.   I knew as soon as I saw him, I was going to take his portrait.

When he was a young college student, on a basketball scholarship, he had a horrifying car accident. The car he was traveling in flipped over the freeway divider and landed him directly in the path of on coming traffic.

In order to save his life, the doctors had to amputate his leg. They tried to save it for eight days, then, they had to fight to save Jason. An infection was taking over. His choice; live with one leg, or die with both.

When I approached Jason with the idea of taking his portrait, he immediately agreed and, although I was a total stranger, we’ve become friends and I am grateful he trusted me enough to portray him the way I see him each day at the pool:

Strong, empowering, generous and full of life.

 After the accident, he had to come to terms with the fact that he would not become a professional basketball player.  I cannot even begin to imagine what this process must have been like for him.

At the end of our shoot we were at the gym where he trains his clients.  He had his LAKERS Jersey with him and asked me if I would take his portrait wearing the jersey.   I felt like this was a moment for him to experience what it would be like to be a well known b-ball player and I wanted him to look as powerful as I know he is.

I’m very honored that his pool portrait has been included as a finalist in National Geographic’s annual portrait contest.  You can vote for it here:

Jason Christopher
Personal Trainer

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Art Grusensky

This is what I imagine a Craigslist posting would say if a talent agent were trying to cast Art Grusensky as himself. 
Outgoing narcissist wanted for photography project. Must like Speedos, dogs and self very much. Use of hands while talking and ability to interrupt conversation with wildly animated, bodily gesticulation, and therefore disrupt photography session, a plus.  Ability to do embarrassing yoga positions in public and play the saxophone also a plus.  

But, luckily for me, I don’t need to post such a request, because I have already met the real Art G. and experienced him in all his glory.  

Art is not like unlike your neighborhood yellow Lab. He’s bold, agile and can materialize beside you, in an instant. He’s fond of loudly busting in on conversations and pontificating about his desires to travel to remote and distant lands. Currently, it seems that anything that ends in STAN, is on his list. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and possibly Djibouti, for fun.  Much like a dog that wants to take possession of an unfamiliar leg, you’re happy to see him but equally happy to see him on his merry way.    

I believe Art is happiest when he’s talking about himself. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to call Art a bit of a narcissist. (Can you be just "a bit of a narcissist?").  I feel comfortable writing that because I have a feeling that Art would proudly approve such a statement. 

The great thing about Art is that he is so comfortable with himself and he photographs very well, making him an ideal subject.  He is very much an extrovert and despite his navel gazing tendencies is fun to talk with. 

Art Grusensky
Pet Vet

What I didn’t know about Art when I first met him, was that he is a Vet and, as I personally witnessed, is amazing with people as well as pets.  But, as you can imagine, there’s more to Art than what you see in these pictures. Oh yes, he has his passions, his art,  and he's very happy to share his philosophy with you, as he did with me, in this video. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Marcio Santos

You can tell a lot about a swimmer’s personality by the way they swim.  The stroke inevitably reveals the disposition of its owner. There are angry swimmers whose hands slap the water so hard you hear them before you see them. There are oblivious ‘drifters,’ who tentatively zig and zag and wear all sorts of plastic floatation devices to keep them secure and yet, always seem to be right where you are.  There are self-involved swimmers who resist sharing a lane by swimming in the center, smacking knuckles as they pass you and make such violent flip turns, that likely incoming swimmers are drenched with a clear message, ‘don’t even think about getting in here with me.” There are some who glide by so quietly and powerfully through the water, their wake is the only signal that they’ve just passed you.

Then, there’s Marcio Santos. 

Marcio swims not so much in the water as he is above the water. He literally flies across the pool with such alarming force you can’t help but to notice him. 

There’s no denying his physical energy even as he stands still. You could say he even looks a bit scary. But, alas, looks can be deceiving.

The day I met him at the pool, I saw this giant wave that was Marcio. I watched him for a while. He was very skilled and comfortable, not imposing at all, despite these images. I overheard him talking with some of his lane-mates and recognized the singsong zhhhwoozhy way of speaking as a Portuguese accent. Then, I heard something that made my ears prick up and I instantly knew that Marcio would be my next photography subject. 

I pounced.

I approached him much the way I do all my subjects. It’s kind of unavoidable because you never know when the opportunity will present itself again, so I rushed him, dripping wet, swim-cap pressed to my head and goggle imprints ringing my eyes. This is a fairly typical poolside appearance, so it’s not that unusual, but asking a perfect stranger to pose in their bathing suit is.

Marcio immediately agreed.

As we talked, I learned about his life in Brazil and that he married a Brazilian woman who had come to Culver City. His face lit up as he talked about his two daughters.

Standing there talking with him, I would never in a million years guessed that he had just finished a ten hour night shift . Marcio is a long haul truck driver for Horizon Lines. 

It was a dreary Sunday afternoon when we were finally able to coordinate his second portrait in east Compton, where Horizon Lines keeps it’s storage containers and trucks.   Marcio was on Brazilian time and as I waited for him, clouds gathering, sun disappearing, I took some pictures, hoping he would eventually show up. It was a pretty cool location. 

Marcio drives like he swims.  Out of nowhere, a red car came zinging around a corner at a very high speed. There was Marcio, an hour late, with his smiling daughter, Isadora in the back seat.

Marcio Santos 
Long Haul Truck Driver 

Here's Marcio with his daughter, Isadora, who had no problem climbing into the cab to keep warm while she waited for her dad.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Teri Muttera

When I first laid eyes on Teri what I sensed about her immediately was her natural athleticism. Just the way she carried herself. She walked with a complete sense of ease and profound understanding of how all the parts interconnect. There are lots of people walking around in the world who do not possess their physical selves. Teri is not one of them.  As the inevitable disrobing took place, my suspicion about Teri, was quickly confirmed.  She is quite the profound athlete and has the legs and biceps to prove it, but more than that, she has the will and drive required to generate them. As I would later find out, she literally spends hours a day working out—for fun. And, of course, this seemed to make perfect sense somehow.  

I wondered, on this particularly Siberian day, if she would have the will and drive to climb out of her warm, fuzzy clothes and stand before me in her bikini.  By comparison to her daily five hour workouts, this surly would be a simple request? But, the look on her face….  I don’t think she was too convinced of my plans.


As I waited patiently for her slip out of her clothes, it occurred to me that this is how most men must feel ninety percent of the time. Finally, the object of their desire stands before them and then, the interminable wait, for the skin to appear.  Oh, the anticipation!  And all I wanted was a photograph!  Pants off! Excellent.  Quickly, I shot a test. Nice legs. 

Notice how she’s gritting her teeth? Perhaps some men are also familiar with this look as well? I had to hurry for sure. Here she is wearing her highly coveted, custom-made wetsuit that is a swimsuit.  Most desirable winter swimming object that I asked her to remove.  She kindly obliged.

Brave girl.  All in all, I think I had her out there for fifteen minutes. 

Teri Muttera
Amatuer Athlete and Art Collector

What you don’t know about Teri, is that she and her husband are intense art collectors. When she is not working out, Teri, is absorbing art in any way, shape and form she can. 

Here is a little sample... two of my favorites and a sneak peak into their beautiful bedroom. Teri's husband, Michael, has done all the restoration on their house and it's quite beautiful. Especially, the Japanese garden. This is one of the best parts of getting to know my swimmers. I get invited into their lives and homes and often, as in this case, make wonderful new friends. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dan Castle

As you can see, Dan Castle, is incredibly fit.  He was a good sport and came out on a very cold day to bare all for me, but that’s pretty much how swimmers are. We swim all year long, rain or shine. Of course, it’s easier to swim year-round outdoors, here in sunny or stormy Los Angeles, but it still can get very cold as it was on this particular day.

I was working quickly because the potential for a rare, torrential downpour was imminent. To keep warm or perhaps simply because he can, Dan, bulging quads and all, happily engaged in some yoga poses.  

See what I mean about the lack of Speedo shyness. Amazing.

Incase you were wondering, the backside of his Speedo says, Bondi Icebergs. Dan spent a year in Australia directing his first feature film, Newcastle, which is about a bunch of hunky surfers.

 And, with just about zero body fat, he was starting to shiver, but not before I asked him to jump in the pool and swim for me, which of course, he had no problem doing.

Dan Castle
Filmmaker and artist 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blake's Shoot

  Blake was my first.

Subject that is. He was the first one I had approached with my idea of shooting portraits of swimmers and he was first to agree. I had explained my idea. He didn’t even mind that it was going to be a full frontal—so to speak.  Surprisingly, most of the men I photographed didn’t mind showing up in their Speedos. When I first started swimming at the Culver City Plunge Pool, after a long period away from swimming due to sinus problems, Blake, with his orange-ish tan, long skinny legs and air of perfectionism, was one of the first people I noticed.  Before I knew his name, I use to call him (in my mind only) Skinny Legs.  I wondered who he was and what he did. I immediately determined he was a regular. Make that,  A REGULAR- caps.    

Ever driven for the perfect freestyle stroke, Blake swims seven days a week, rain or shine.  No sunscreen-- just a skimpy Speedo and the eternal quest to kick properly. 

The really interesting—secret part of Blake, who is very fastidious but quick with a hearty laugh, is that he is a Professor of English at UCLA. When I photographed him last spring, he was on sabbatical writing his latest book. He’s a specialist on American Western culture.  I just loved that.
I had to get approval at the pool to shoot his portrait and Diego Cevallos, the pool manager, who has been amazingly supportive gave his blessing.  However, when I got to the pool, it was being drained for it’s annual five year cleaning.  I couldn’t believe it. After weeks of planning around various schedules, the pool was now almost entirely empty of water when we showed up. But, what first looked to be a major problem, quickly turned into a once-in-a-five-year opportunity.

I had Blake stand in the middle of the pool. Something we could never had done if the pool was full. His second portrait was taken at his home, which of course, was absolutely immaculate without one spec of dust anywhere to be seen or sniffed. Blake pulled that white shirt of the closet and it looked as if it had never been worn once.  
The final image: 

Welcome To The Secret Life of Swimmers


Blake Allmendinger 

The "Secret Life of Swimmers” is a personal photography project that aims to promote the diversity and importance of the unique public space that is The Culver City Plunge Pool.   It is designed as an inspiring presentation, since the pool occupies an important position in the varied and often daunting landscape of greater Los Angeles County.  

In a metropolitan area of freeways, strip malls and infinite geographical miles of concrete, many of us are searching for a human connection.  In these tough economic times, public spaces take on a new importance as integral to the lives and social experience of a diverse array of Los Angeles residents.  The importance of this project is heightened because these public spaces are now threatened by cutbacks and closures. 

“The Secret Life of Swimmers” is a series of both realistic and inspiring photographs which will show how people of all ages, backgrounds, physical abilities and diverse careers find common ground in a single public space—the Culver City Plunge Pool.   Here, they come to shed the trappings and trials of their daily lives for an hour or two of relaxation, socialization, exercise and communication. They come from every corner of Los Angeles County to literally shed their varied daily workaday uniforms for nothing but the basics—a swimsuit and pair of goggles and perhaps a pair of fins.  In this sense, the pool becomes a great equalizer.  Everyone old or young, rich or poor, athletic or not, is simply A Swimmer.

I am excited to share with you the behind the scenes chronicles of this on going project and reveal to you some of the wonderful people I am lucky enough to photograph.