Mathijs Labadie & Roel van Tour capture realism and surrealism of Rotterdam's public pools

The Dutch duo were commissioned to photograph Rotterdam's public pools for a piece written for the online magazine Vers Beton ("Fresh Concrete")

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The Independent Culture

'I'm not much of a swimmer any more – my belly doesn't allow it," laughs Roel van Tour when asked whether "The Pool", a project he worked on with photography partner Mathijs Labadie earlier this year, was influenced by his own watery escapades. "I joined a swimming group a few years ago – it was a thrill to clear the mind by swimming lengths – but now I only go with my child, which has more to do with play than sports.

"And Mathijs doesn't go beyond the wading pool with his daughter. We even forgot to jump in ourselves when taking the pictures! So much for engagement with the subject!"

The Dutch duo had been commissioned to photograph Rotterdam's public pools for a piece written for the online magazine Vers Beton ("Fresh Concrete"). Swimming is an essential part of a Netherlands elementary-school education, which seems logical in a country where canals, lakes and rivers dominate the landscape. As Van Tour says, "As a kid here, you are surrounded by water all the time, so the chance of accidentally drowning is more imminent."


The first two pictures featured in the gallery above were shot in the same pool, which had just reopened after being redecorated back to its original, 1932, design. "We wanted to show both the beautiful curved roof and the pool," says Van Tour. "In the end we were able to capture the roof in the reflection of the pool with the model sitting on the diving board.

"The picture with the floating man (his name is Boris – he is quite a character) was an image I already had in mind – an image of an almost-unconscious man floating in a pool, supported by the float boards that are used to teach children to swim. In the end, the pool had these spaghetti-like beams, which made the image a little more humorous.

"We like to aim for something between realism and surrealism in our photographs, for them to have somewhat of a weird feel."

For more: A book of their latest work, the Bottom Ash Observatory project, about incinerated waste, can be bought from