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Drained London

Author: • Jun 30th, 2008 •

Category: architecture, Ballardosphere, drained swimming pools, entropy, photography, Shanghai, urban decay, visual art

Ballardian: Gigi Cifali

ABOVE: Eltham Lido, by Gigi Cifali.

Curiously, the house we moved to had a drained swimming pool in its garden. It must have been the first drained pool I had seen, and it struck me as strangely significant in a way I have never fully grasped. My parents decided not to fill the pool, and it lay in the garden like a mysterious empty presence. I would walk through the unmown grass and stare down at its canted floor. I could hear the bombing and gunfire all around Shanghai, and see the vast pall of smoke that lay over the city, but the drained pool remained apart. In the coming years I would see a great many drained and half-drained pools, as British residents left Shanghai for Australia and Canada, or the assumed ‘safety’ of Hong Kong and Singapore, and they all seemed as mysterious as that first pool in the French Concession. I was unaware of the obvious symbolism that British power was ebbing away, because no one thought so at the time, and faith in the British Empire was at its jingoistic height.

J.G. Ballard, Miracles of Life (2008).

Here are some more Ballard-evoking images: drained swimming pools as photographed by Gigi Cifali in his Absence of Water series.


The photos here are all by Gigi Cifali, who originally trained as a topographer, from a series called “Absence of Water.” The images document the disused pools of London – and there are many more of these photos to be seen over at Polar Inertia or on Cifali’s own website.

I’m reminded, though, of a great line from J.G. Ballard’s novel Empire of the Sun:

“Jim watched Mr. Maxted sway along the tiled verge of the empty swimming pool, curious to see if he would fall in. If Mr. Maxted was always accidentally falling into swimming pools, as indeed he always was, why did he only fall into them when they were filled with water?”

Why, indeed.

Ballardian: Gigi Cifali

ABOVE: Erith Pool, by Gigi Cifali.

Royal, eyes almost closed, one hand gripping Laing’s shoulder, pointed towards the swimming-pool.

In the yellow light reflected off the greasy tiles, the long tank of the bone-pit stretched in front of them. The water had long since drained away, but the sloping floor was covered with the skulls, bones and dismembered limbs of dozens of corpses. Tangled together where they had been flung, they lay about like the tenants of a crowded beach visited by a sudden holocaust.

Disturbed less by the sight of these mutilated bodies — residents who had died of old age or disease and then been attacked by wild dogs, Laing assumed — than by the stench, Laing turned away. Royal, who had clung so fiercely to him during their descent of the building, no longer needed him, and dragged himself away along the line of changing cubicles. When Laing last saw him, he was moving towards the steps at the shallow end of the swimming-pool, as if hoping to find a seat for himself on this terminal slope.

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

Ballardian: Gigi Cifali

ABOVE: Uxbridge Pool, by Gigi Cifali.

For the next ten days the expedition pressed on down the New Jersey Turnpike, heading south-west towards Washington. The endless ribbon of the highway unwound into the haze, lined with mile after mile of abandoned cars and trucks. Each evening they left the road and spent the night in one of the hundreds of empty motels and country clubs along the route, resting around the drained swimming-pools that seemed to cover the entire continent.

J.G. Ballard, Hello America (1981).

Ballardian: Gigi Cifali

ABOVE: Weldstone Pool, by Gigi Cifali.

During the night the swimming-pool had drained itself. Jim had never seen the tank empty, and he gazed with interest at the inclined floor. The once mysterious world of wavering blue lines, glimpsed through a cascade of bubbles, now lay exposed to the morning light. The tiles were slippery with leaves and dirt, and the chromium ladder at the deep end, which had once vanished into a watery abyss, ended abruptly beside a pair of scummy rubber slippers.

J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun (1984).

Ballardian: Gigi Cifali

ABOVE: London Fields Lido, by Gigi Cifali.

Car parks surrounded a shopping mall lined with stores and restaurants, and I pointed with surprise to the first pedestrians we had seen, unloading their supermarket trolleys through the tail-doors of their vehicles. To the south of the plaza lay a marina filled with yachts and powerboats, moored together like a rnothballed fleet. An access canal led to the open sea, passing below a cantilever bridge that carried the coast road. A handsome clubhouse presided over the marina and its boatyard, but its terrace was deserted, awnings flared over the empty tables. The nearby sports club was equally unpopular, its tennis courts dusty in the sun, the swimming pool drained and forgotten.

J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights (1996).

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One Response »

  1. Hi, ive got this thing about collecting photos of empty swimming pools, do you know of any websites that have virtual moving around the pool with arrow keys

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