When the visual history of the pandemic is winnowed down to its defining images, we’ll be struck again by the glare of disparity — the pictures of mobile morgues and long lines at food banks next to those of people who seem to be riding out the crisis on a wave of rhubarb cocktail infusions and early evening beach walks. On the one side, the pervasive physical and economic toll; on the other, the chic home gyms of Instagram, the velvety spring lawns of Amagansett, the casting of lockdown life as an image from Slim Aarons.
Aarons was a World War II combat photographer before he became a chronicler of a hybrid American aristocracy in repose. His most famous photographs show his subjects hanging around their pools in a state of glamorous, contented isolation. Many of these were taken during the 1960s and ’70s, when America was on fire and ripped apart, the images suggesting insulation as much as oasis — the defense against a broad range of new, discomfiting realities.
As we enter the Summer of Our Confinement, the private pool has taken on a similar resonance — as a kind of safety valve by which to avoid too much despair. It is a luxury asset whose status has been twisted into necessity. If you had previously regarded the notion of having your own place to swim as ostentatious, inefficient, inimical to all your communitarian values, you might now see it differently — as a reliable means of circumventing contact with the dangerous vector class.
The desire for a pool is easily frustrated under ordinary circumstance, but especially so at the moment. There are the obvious and considerable barriers imposed by space and cost — a Gunite pool of 20 feet by 40 feet will run you $75,000 at the minimum, on a flat piece of land; forget it if your property needs grading. But the demand is also so high in parts of the Northeast seriously affected by the virus that a contractor will be unlikely to accommodate you when you call, telling him you need relief, right away.
Relief from the fact that children of varying ages are home without a nanny or camp, that you are definitely not going to Portugal in July, that public pools and beaches and country clubs will be closed or so restricted that they may not be worth the effort. [Continue reading…]