The Site

Worcester Swimming Pool on Sansome Walk has been closed now for over twelve months. With its demolition pending Hamish and I recently managed to get access to the site to take some pictures. (We had both permission and a chaperone).

The site itself has long history, with people swimming on the property since 1852 when the ‘Hydro Baths’ first opened, This incarnation opened in April 1972 before finally closing in December 2016.

I’m aware that a great many people have fond memories of the pool and associated facilities on Sansome Walk, gymnasia have never been my favourite municipal spaces, this was to be my longest and my favourite visit.

There is a danger when it comes to sites like this. If you catch them too soon after their closure they look like they’re closed for the weekend, catch them too late and there isn’t enough of the life of the place left, either due to the first stages of demolition or to vandalism. Poignancy in these kinds of photographs is often dependant upon the ability to recognise and acknowledge both the entropy that causes the decay, and the lives that once occupied the space. With tight security, and a relatively sound building, this facility has a piquant dilapidation, while remaining relatively intact.

We began our visit with a tour of the premises which has been drained, secured and searched for asbestos since its closure 15 months ago. Much is left of the old spaces and plant, with survey holes and emptiness offering the best clue to its status. We scoped out our favourite locations and (I) generally got quite excited. As days go, this is pretty close to heaven, great cameras, a great subject, and the time and the light to shoot it.

Once we’d completed our tour and liaised about which targets we wanted to hit we resolved to work our way up from the plant-room at the base of the building.

Gear

My load-out for the day was a 16-35mm, 24mm tilt-shift, a 50mm,  a 24-70mm, my 5d, and my trusty tripod. This was a really nice opportunity to reengage with my digital cameras as something other than workhorses. My love for film cameras occasionally extends beyond practicality, (I  finished a roll in the Leica while I was there), but the flexibility of the Mark IV is so compelling.

For Dryer in the Dark, the only light in the room was a tiny green LED in an emergency light. The combination of live-view with an f/1.2 lens gave me just enough detail to focus and frame up on the screen without having to either light the subject or the focusing scale. I shot a few test exposures utilising iso32000 and settled on an exposure of 1/4 of a second @ f/1.2. This translated nicely into a 30 second exposure at f/2.8 iso2000, making for a relatively quick photo, manageable noise, and a very green tint. 

Modus Operandi

I began each of the spaces with the 16-35mm, looking for landscapes within the building before moving to the 50mm lens to pick out interesting details. Once we were into the main pool room I switched to the tilt-shift lens which kept my verticals vertical. I also took shots at the top middle and bottom of the shift in order to merge them later. (I did start to hanker for canon’s exceptional 17mm tilt-shift at this point, because I am both greedy and spoiled).

Since updating my digital cameras I’ve relaxed my attitude to some of the extraneous gizmos that they include. I’m now using the GPS in the cameras to keep the clocks synchronised, an incredibly useful feature when shooting two guns at once. I’ve also had the WIFI enabled much of the time as well – and have been editing on the fly*.

It was with this new found gizmo freedom that I fired up the in camera HDR mode to see how well it could handle the intense highlights blasting through the pool room windows – the results were insipid. I resorted to bracketing a couple of exposures and edit the results myself in order to get a more full tonal range, but in the end I preferred the look of the single exposures.

While we weren’t short on time the site was so big and such a target rich environment that while one could have dropped in filters, and shot at lower ISOs there really was just too much to do.

*Pontsticill Reservoir – Shot with the 24mm tilt-shit at night and edited on site using Snapseed & Lightroom Mobile

Once our chaperone was ready to leave we decamped to the exterior of the building to get some final shots of the outside before making a move home. The sky was dull and the light was flat and after such an interesting and varied shoot inside I didn’t get excited about the outside in the same way.

What follows is a collection of my favourites, with some pretty quick edits applied. It was one of the my favourite shoots of recent months, If I could go back again I would, but the real trick is to find something else and to get excited all over again.

Gallery