Capturing the Scene

Eric Herman Headshot
photo of 1963 pool project

In this edition of AQUA Architecture you’ll find an unusual piece, “Time Passages” by veteran mid-Michigan builder Dave Beattie. Last year, he received a wonderful set of photos from 1963 depicting the installation of a concrete pool, built in the formative days of his family’s company.

It’s unusual to find such a complete set of photos of pool construction dating back so far, in this case a full 50-plus years. I’ll leave it to Dave to tell the story, but I will use the opportunity to make a case for the power of photography.

Through my years covering this industry, I’ve been consistently disappointed by the lack of care many of you in the design and build segment of the business take in visually recording your work. Certainly there are numerous shining exceptions, many whose work appears in these pages, but by and large, photography is an afterthought and oftentimes, it shows in the dearth of great images.

I’ve been pounding this drum for some time now, and if this discussion sounds redundant, it is, because those of us in the publishing business still consistently run into work that is badly under-documented. On a certain level, it’s somewhat understandable. After all, professional photographers are expensive, and taking pictures yourself is almost always secondary task to the business at hand.

I believe a much more constructive approach is to consider photography a necessary step in the design and construction process, something just as important as any other task. Why? Just consider the myriad of uses of quality images. They are the primary currency of all design awards programs, arguably the most important element on a website, the chief content of any kind of advertising or marketing campaign, the essence of your portfolio and utterly indispensable when working with prospective clients. Photos can be used in showroom displays, print ads or even TV commercials, and it goes without saying you need quality images if you want to see your work published, either in print or online.

And today, with the advent of social media and sites such as Houzz or Pinterest, the value of eye-catching imagery is even greater than it was just a few years ago. On top of that, photos of the construction process, which are even rarer than finished beauty shots, can be used to train new employees, record your sound construction practices and even be used to keep a record of where the pipes are buried for future repair or renovation work.

The great thing about photographing beautiful aquatic environments is that the hard work of creating the scene has already been done. By designing and building, you’ve already done the hard part, i.e., making the setting in the first place. So why not take the extra step and take quality pictures? Either learn to do it yourself or hire someone, either way, there’s no point not taking images of your work. Frankly, you owe it to yourself to do so.

There’s also a broader framework to consider, that being the value of influencing others and contributing to the historical landscape of the industry. One of my all time favorite projects, which I’ve only experienced through photos, is the Donnell Residence by legendary landscape architect Thomas Church. Built in 1946, the swimming pool features a freeform shape surrounded by well-organized deck and lawn areas. Church published the project in his seminal book on residential landscape architecture, Gardens are For People, and to this day the project remains widely viewed and discussed.

Many people have said that this one project stands as one of the most influential of all time, practically giving rise to the concept of the free-form swimming pool. Now imagine if no one bothered to photograph it. It’s not a far reach to imagine our industry might have been very different and arguably worse off. The same thing can be said of the pools at Hearst Castle, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, the works of the great John Lautner or the pool and grotto at the Playboy Mansion West.

The images of those and scores of other beautiful properties have fueled the creativity of countless designers and builders for decades. In most cases, the way that influence is spread is by way of photographs.

Perhaps one of your projects might just be the next iconic installation, but you’ll never know unless you take the time to capture it in photos.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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