No Lifeguard On Duty
With the unfettered perspective of 20/20 hindsight the 1960s seem like true halcyon days. Although marred by huge events such as the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, the sixties were an immense time of change in attitude and could be seen as a beginning of a change or shift in our human conscious.
As the world slid out of the period of austerity necessitated by the end of the Second World War and the subsequent “baby boomer” generation began to come of age the sixties were a decade filled with hope and promise. Modernism took hold as everyone looked to the future, design was more than functional, sleek curves and bright colours typifying the trends of the day, Mary Quant’s miniskirts, and the uber-cool “Mod” subculture marked the first time a teenage generation gained a voice, ceasing to be “seen and not heard.” The Civil Rights movement gave voice and equality to those who had previously been denied so much as a seat on a bus.
Following John F Kennedy’s commitment to the American end of the Space Race, the desires of the decade stretched far beyond our Earthly boundries and out into the infinity of space. By the end of the decade man had set foot on the Moon.
However today those dreams and aspirations are all but a fading memory and the reality of our awakening is somewhat of a nightmare by comparison. Ten years beyond the supposed date of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyessy, what little aspirations we have left are solidly grounded in the terrestrial plane.
This sentiment is very much encapsulated in the work of photographer J Bennet Fitts who’s undeniably beautiful images provide a stark and bleak perspective of how our society and the built environment which supports it has gone wrong.
In his series No Lifeguard On Duty, Fitts presents a series of 19 square-crop photographs of swimming pools. Mostly decorative 1960's pools attached to hotels, motels beach houses and resorts – pools that in the most part are not used any more, extensions of holiday resorts that people no longer visit. Each of the images, from a wide range of locales depicts a different kind of pool, mainly smaller modernist styles which were most likely the major selling point of these resorts.
While a few of the pools are still in use with crystal clear water and deck chairs surrounding, the majority of them are redundant, empty and long vacant of water-loving holidaymakers. Many are bone dry, some have a small deposits of rank rust-water while others are fenced off entirely. One has even been filled in and now acts as an oddly-shaped miniature lawn. The outdoor swimming pool, once a symbol of ambition and status, and presented in Fitts’ photographs as how they are today: neglected, sad, and somewhat lost much like the hopes and dreams which facilitated their creation.
The photographs were all taken at sunset, with many of them the pool in the foreground giving way to a barren expanse leading towards the horizon. The composition pulls your eye away from the pools, which are mostly presented in the foreground, towards the vanishing point, where the sun has already disappeared.
In his other series’ Industrial Landscape[ing] and Golf portray the reality of what we have been left with beyond the horizon as a new sun rises. The former series portrays the sort of corporatized landscaping which exists around industrial developments. The landscaping mostly consists of sad, pathetic saplings with their shallow roots transplanted into the ultimate bastion of aboricultural nurturing: the concrete breezeblock. As the forward-facing and hopeful designs of modernism gave way to functionalist no-thrills quadrilaterals their commitment to the natural form of the landscapes which they replace amounts to no more than lip-service.
The sprouts are mostly hyper-real estimations of plant life, they may as well be plastic. Their branches boast no leaves, those which do have been pruned into freakish squares, any organic life or trace of naturalistic individuality the mass-produced shrubs have been subsumed into a false, synthetic representation of themselves.
Similarly Golf shows us equally exquisite images of a golf course at night. Theatrically lit, each location appears not unlike a movie set, but also emphasises the falsity of the situation. The golf course is possibly the ultimate statement in hyper-realism, an entirely constructed landscape with features so alien to the locale such as sandbanks, lakes and a “rough” which is so precisely placed and manicured that it negates the meaning of its very name.
While the golf course is more formed and in many ways a more accurate depiction of “reality” it could be argued that this makes it more hyper-real than the corporate landscaping of the aforementioned series. Fitts himself described this process; “I remember the multiple times a year that they would take the golf course lake from its normal greenish hue and dye it into a deep blue to make it appear as a lake should in the eyes of the golfer”
One of the most remarkable features of all of the J Bennett Fitts’ images is that each is entirely devoid of human beings, which is fitting in away, as the landscapes he represents are similarly devoid of humanity. His subtle choices represent an unnatural world, one so false and hyper-real that it has almost no natural influence. By far it is No Lifeguard On Duty which the images most closely represents nature – Fitts’ images displaying the inherent natural beauty in decay, as nature reclaims what once was hers.
We can but hope that the faux landscape[ing] surrounding the industrial units and the unnatural nature reserves of the golf courses will, in time, also be reclaimed . If so, we should very much look forward to J Bennet Fitts follow-up series’.
Article by: Fraser Denholm