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Lido memories, 2020

by Anna Fairchild, April 2020

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

The great outdoors

In the spring of 2020 we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation: a global pandemic, which has brought severe restrictions on movement and use of open and public spaces that many of us have previously taken for granted. Physical distance between people outside our immediate families is determined by a space of 2 metres, across which it is estimated the Covid-19 virus cannot travel. Parks are closed, sunbathing in public spaces is defined as not ‘necessary exercise’, and swimming pools, lidos and sports facilities are shut. Our lives as we have known them have changed overnight. The world has changed in a blink, it seems.

In 1926 Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel, beating the existing (male) record by two whole hours. Six other women followed this record in 1928. Magazines of the time extolled the benefits of outdoor pursuits such as swimming and rambling, and we can imagine how this achievement might have created a heightened desire to celebrate the freedom of exercise in the great outdoors in the inter-war period.

Then in 1929 the American firm, Jantzen, developed and launched a range of new swimming costumes for women, with the slogan, “The suit that changed bathing into swimming”. These inter-war factors, coupled with the ‘continental’ fashion for ‘sun-bathing’, prompted many local councils, both coastal and inland, to invest in building pools to attract visitors to their towns or resorts and boost their local economies.

Early examples of these pools in the 1920s were designed in the classical style with pillars and columns, like the Blackpool baths, opened in 1923 and compared at the time to the coliseum in Rome. From the air, the baths resembled a Greek or Roman amphitheatre, with curved, stepped terracing for spectators and a deck for sunbathing. We can imagine how the continental appeal of this might have allowed visitors to imagine they had travelled far beyond their local swimming baths!

Later, during the 1930s,  oval or rectangular designs emerged, influenced by the Art Deco movement. At the baths at Weston-Super-Mare there is a notable absence of Doric pillars or classical features, with much more of a pared-down aesthetic, in line with Art Deco, using stepping, simple pyramidic or zigzag forms and arches. Hexagons, geometry and semi-circles are favoured in these more minimal designs.

Fig. 1 The Bath South Shore, Blackpool

Fig. 2 Weston-Super-Mare Lido c.1930s

These constructions were made possible by inter-war developments in the production of reinforced cast concrete and tubular steel, and echoed some of the radical designs at the German Bauhaus, prior to the Second World War. The Bauhaus is renowned as the most influential modernist art school of the 20th century, with its approach to teaching and the relationship between society, art and technology.

The outdoor swimming pool at Hitchin in Hertfordshire was opened in 1938, just beforethe outbreak of the Second World War, and was influenced by these new ideas about design. With its symmetrical layout, Art Deco-influenced railings, decorative palm trees and iconic central, hexagonal tiered fountain, it is as popular today as ever. As a teenager in the 1970s, I enjoyed visiting the pool in summer with friends, spending long days there and feeling as though I had visited the coast (although Hitchin is at least two hours by road from the east coast of England).

Fig. 3 Hitchin Outdoor Pool c. 1938-40

Lido Memories

Over the three summers of 2017, 2018 and 2019 I made a photographic and film record of the 1938 hexagonal fountain at the Hitchin pool and of aspects of the outdoor changing room; both were relatively unchanged features since my visits in the 1970s and this began to form what would later become the project Lido Memories.

The fountain was always the focal point of the original entrance to the baths in the 1970s. The ticket and turnstile entrance still divided male and female bathers  as they entered the pool buildings; the three tiers of the hexagonal fountain were visible through the arched entrance gate. Water could be seen cascading down form the smallest top hexagonal tier onto the larger middle and then third tier,and into a pool at the base. The flow of the water and its reflective colours glistened in multifarious ways that responded to the speed of the water and the ambient weather and wind conditions on any particular day.

It seemed to me in the 1970s like a portal to another continent, with its turquoise painted interior and its continentally-inspired Art Deco geometry. The sound of the cascading water mingled with pool splashes and echoes of laughter and enjoyment in the open air.

Fig. 4 Blue Shadow, 2018 Anna Fairchild, from the series Lido Memories, 2020

Sand pebbled fountain edges meeting the bright turquoise water edges gave the illusion of Mediterranean shorelines and crystal blue clear water. It felt as though if you stared long enough, you might actually be somewhere else entirely, standing at the edge of the Red Sea or The north African coast.

Fig. 5 Shoreline, 2018 Anna Fairchild from the series Lido Memories, 2020

In the diminishing heat of the late afternoon one would enter the changing rooms, listening to the fading sounds of laughter and conversation of the last remaining bathers, which echoed inside the changing room cubicles; rows of hastily re-painted three-quarter height lime green plywood doors. The swimming pool water running across the concrete screed floor and draining out along a narrow carved channel.

Fig. 6 Lime Echo, 2019, Anna Fairchild from the series Lido Memories, 2020

The muted emerald light filtered into the humid space through the green corrugated plastic roof, accentuating the feel of a temporary shelter in a tropical garden.

In 2019 late summer plants move with the warm wind, projecting dappled shadows like a Mediterranean outdoor cinema. The soundtrack is the last fragments of laughter in the remains of the day.

Fig. 7 Asbestos Memory, 2019, Anna Fairchild, Film still, from the series Lido Memories, 2020

These faded remnants of sound and imagery, smells and materials are what often return on re-visiting places over shorter and longer periods of time. They can transport us, through their transience and liminality, to other places,  creating portals through time.

In the spring of 2020 we find ourselves indoors and with very limited access to outside space and social interaction. It is in this confinement that we perhaps  find ourselves thinking about places and experiences in the past, often triggered by smells, sounds or changes in weather patterns that we have started to notice more closely; looking across hedgerows and up at the sky and the vast unimaginable distance where we can daydream or recollect things or experiences.

We may inevitably come back to thinking about how the world has changed so suddenly. Perhaps more than that, in this strange period, is considering our potential to create memories in the here and now, which we may look back on in the unimaginable future ahead of us.

Fig. 8 Lockdown Safari Daydream, 2020, Anna Fairchild. From the photographic series Lockdown Safari, 2020

Lido Memories | Anna Fairchild  |  2020