Capturing the beauty of swimming through abstract photography

words and photographs by Barbara Tyroler

Water is the source of life. That may be its primeval allure. We’ve likely all experienced the fear of water, too. It can engulf us, drag us down to the terrifying deep beneath a calm surface, drown us. And yet water can also offer freedom and delight. Swimming through water is like flying; our limbs become wings.

The Water Portrait collection of images were all photographed in public and private swimming pools and aquatic centers along the East Coast. These portraits, organized into dozens of independently titled series, amassed organically over time. They feature family, friends, and people in love; colleagues and students; business clients; and strangers.

Some of my subjects are chosen or come to me simply because of their love for swimming. Children with physiological or developmental challenges have attended classes to learn to navigate and trust their bodies in the water. Elderly people suffering from arthritis find that the water can heal and soothe. People with anguished reactions to life’s challenges use the water to enter a spiritual state of being. Others come to water to alleviate stress, ritualize a birth, celebrate a marriage, or to mourn the loss of a loved one.

These images are representational, in that they document or bear witness to the actual people, places, and events that I bring to the lens. The lines, markings, shapes, and colors created by the body’s immersion in water, while recognizable with a close look, also become a burst of multilayered refractions, meant to project an aura of fantasy, mystery, a kind of chaos that can at first be disorienting. As strange and unsettling as some of the images may at first seem—making human shapes almost unrecognizable—they help us recognize each other, however different we are, as fully human. What follows are the stories lurking within the frame.