Bathers at Sea Point: Photographs by Antoinette Engel

Antoinette Engel, a documentary filmmaker and photographer based in Cape Town (and a friend of this blog) took these images of bathers at Sea Point last year. We found them on the 75 photography website and asked to see the rest of the series.

Caption (from Antoinette’s 75 page): “love the way this girl was obviously begging her mom to let her swim a bit longer”

It is perhaps the ‘obviousness’ of these images, evocative of the various and numerous relationships exhibited by bodies at a swimming pool, which makes them so joyful. So here’s the rest of the series, with Antoinette’s description of how they came to be taken:

I took these photographs at the Sea Point Pavilion, a popular public salt water pool in Sea Point. One of the oldest suburbs in Cape Town, Sea Point is situated on the foothills of Signal Hill and faces the sea. Not only does it have the pavilion, it has a promenade too: a long winding walkway with an equally long grassy patch next to it that stretches along the coast for the best walk your money can’t buy because it’s free. I’d say it’s the best used public space in the city.

I took the photographs in response to a competition I’d seen on a national news site here, sponsored by a big name camera brand offering camera equipment as the prize – needless to say I decided to enter as I only have an analogue camera.

The brief was to capture a family on a typical South African holiday, and so I thought to go to the pools.

As a child my mom would make sure to pack us all into the station wagon to go to the pools. At least one adult would be along to keep watch and play life-guard, man the picnic blanket. The rest were cousins and friends, and when I was 12 an almost-crush who, lucky for me, happened to be a neighbour that was invited along. If it wasn’t the pools it was the beach or the water park in Table View where the slippery slide still stands (although I hope by now they’ve replaced it counting how many years have passed). It didn’t cost a lot, it meant getting to be in the water all day and for me and my water-baby brother who’d throw himself in the pool without abandon it meant the world.

I don’t think it cost R4 back then and it’s still really cheap by today’s standards at R11 for an adult pass into the pools.

Up until today there hasn’t been a summer I can say I didn’t make at least one trip to the pavilion… maybe I don’t cut as lean a figure in my bather anymore but I still get lots of sunshine, salt water and the buzz off the pools and the people. It gets busy, make no mistake, but some afternoons are more relaxed than others.

The day I took these photos is the first time I’ve ever been with my camera and I still managed a swim after. These were taken in Dec 2010 or Jan 2011, I forget which. I didn’t win anything, wasn’t shortlisted but I’m still really glad for that brief and the photos that came of it because I’ll always have them as a prompt to some of the best memories I cherish of my own family.

I’d say I negotiate for a living. I negotiate how to frame unguarded moments when I have a camera in my hand and otherwise access into people’s lives when the phone’s to my ear and I’m researching for the documentary series I work on. I take photographs because a part of me wants a part of life that is unmediated, which I didn’t do anything to earn but be ready.

* Antoinette Engel is currently researching for the documentary series I am Woman, and has directed two upcoming episodes, on Sandra Afrika and Marlene Le Roux, for the weekly show. Her documentary on meat production in South Africa will be broadcast on television in September.

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