In this photograph we see a family scene; something fun, playful and peaceful; but why does it make us feel that way?
What Can We See in This Photograph
What is immediately apparent in this image? Even though this is a colour photograph, the palette is very limited, dictated by the blue and teal of sky and water. The woman in the photograph has a swimming costume almost the colour of the water. The sky and sea in the background are also pale blue; if he’d shot this from the other end of the pool looking back towards land then we wouldn't have that complimenting of colours.
The photographer, Chris Lund believed in setting up a photograph to show what
he wanted to demonstrate but still making it look natural: it's an orchestrated portrait in an uncontrolled environment. There is a subtle, but essential, aspect that gives the photograph life.
The woman in the photo has four vertical lines on her leg
which are, on closer inspection, the arms of her sunglasses and the shadows
they cast on her leg. We’re clearly supposed to notice this and yet the marks are
a distraction, completely at odds with what’s going on in the photograph. We know
Lund likes to set up a scene–wouldn’t he have noticed this straight away and
removed the glasses? It could be that usually with a woman in a swimsuit we’d
be drawn to look at her body (especially as her face is turned from the camera)
but in this instance we’re drawn straight to the incongruous marks on her legs and further
pulled into the scene Lund has set before us. This small detail adds complexity to the composition. It suggests a history for our subjects and a world beyond the frame.
What of our subjects? The couple look almost mid-conversation, like we’ve caught them sharing a moment. Although there are many people in the background, we’re oblivious to them because of our main subjects. The shapes formed by the woman's pose all lead to the man's gaze. The man carries a child on his shoulders. We are clearly meant to assume they are a family. What are they talking about? They’re both smiling, did the child say or do something funny? In the way our three subjects relate to each other, and the rest of the scene, Lund takes us from the distractions of a busy pool side and into something private, intimate, and fleeting; a lovely family moment.
About the Photographer and Photograph
The photograph was taken by Chris Lund, July 1953. After initially working as a lab technician for the National Film Board of Canada, he grew interested in photography and after six months of amateur ‘shooting’, was given his own photographic assignment.
He appeared to shoot the pool featured in our example (Fundy National Park, New Brunswick) over several years and if you look at some of Lund's other pictures you can see the Fundy Pool ones start to tell more of a story as time progresses. The 1950 shots appear to just document the pool, are ‘nice snaps,’ if you like. Start to look at the ones from 1952 onwards though (like our example) and you can really see his shift into documenting more individual stories.
Lund Photographed Canada from the 1940s to the 1970s before dying in 1983 and now his work is part of the National Gallery’s collection.
Your Turn! ‘On the Sands at the Foot of Scarborough Bluffs’.
Another photograph by Chris Lund, this time by the sea instead of the pool. What do you make of this very saturated image compared to the almost pastel tones of our previous one?
If you're unsure of what
to look for in a photograph, check out Dawn Oosterhoff's excellent
article: How to Read a Photograph and let us know what you see in this image.