June 25, 2018

Swimming Pool Chic: The Mythical Decadence Of Piscine Molitor

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.

For over three decades, photographer Gil Rigoulet’s images have appeared in international publications like Le Monde, Elle, Géo, Grands Reportages, Sunday Times, La Républica, and La Stampa. These images, often shot in black and white, stand out for their street-level vibe, with Rigoulet never far from capturing various youth subcultures like hippies, punks, French rockabilly gangs and the like. More recently, Rigoulet debuted color Polaroid photos taken at the Piscine Molitor. This famous art-deco swimming pool located at the very end of Paris’ 16th arrondissement is the birthplace of the bikini, famously portrayed in the film Life of Pi.

While Rigoulet is known the bodies of work Street Photography (taken in Europe, North America, and Asia) and Paysage en mouvement (Moving Landscape)—images taken from a moving car—over a period of 25 years, throughout the 1990s and 2000s he was also working on a black and white Polaroid 665 series camera. After exposing the negatives, Rigoulet fixed the positives in a painstaking process for an extended. The series focused on legends and beliefs in trees, rocks, and landscapes, and it was shown at The Natural History Museum in Paris and various other venues. In the Polaroid series Transparences (Transparencies), Rigoulet let the positives develop for 15 years inside a box, with the oxidation process giving them a blurry, degraded atmosphere. He even documented a great deal of London during the 1970s, whether it was Afro Caribbean communities, rather hilariously, an old woman walking alongside a building tagged with graffiti reading “LSD please”.

After shutting down in 1989, the Piscine Molitor enjoyed an afterlife first as a graffiti mecca, followed by its current incarnation as a luxury hotel and spa. In these Polaroid photographs, Rigoulet’s models are women, which he reimagines as the “goddesses of modern times”: sirens and ondines. The new Polaroid photos are, as he says, a counterpoint to the black and white photos he took at Piscine Molitor in 1985 (for the series Molitor 85), a project originally undertaken as part of what turned into a 30-year study of the human body in and around water.

Rigoulet tells Polaroid Originals that his affair with the Polaroid SX-70 is a relatively recent one. He began using it for Pola Molitor series when the hotel and pool were reopened back in May of 2014.

“It’s a legendary camera, but the first one I had got fungus on the lens,” says Rigoulet. “I had to borrow another to continue the series. I worked a lot with Polaroid 100 and 340 chambers and Polaroid 665 black and white film. I used Mamiya 6 and 7 as well as Rollei SL66 for gelatin silver.”

As Rigoulet notes, the SX-70’s square format is rare, as very few medium format cameras can capture images up to 25 centimeters. This allows him to record lots of details, while also permitting him to enlarge the images without limitations, a vital process in his creative compositions.

“The fact that there are eight exposures in a pack creates another dynamic with the photographic act,” Rigoulet explains. “I concentrate, I define what I want my photo to be: the graphic rhythm, the colors, the intensity of the image, managing the subjects.”

“Sometimes it’s 20 minutes before I take the pictures, but I only capture one image for each composition,” says Rigoulet. “The Impossible Project SX-70 film color allows for interesting hues that I want to be reminiscent of the 80s. I never use any other instant film.”

Rigoulet recalls the summer of 1985, when he originally took black and white photos at the swimming pool, as being a time where toplessness reigned supreme. For him, these photos speak to a “quasi-mythical place” where the hip Parisian youth hung out. There, he walked around as he pleased, right up along the edge of the water with no problem and without permission.

“No one paid any attention,” Rigoulet remembers. “It was an era of leisure swimming pools. Its original colors have been restored: blue for the cabin doors and bright yellow walls,” he adds. “It’s a preserved island, protected from the city by walls. At the end of the day, the surface of the water takes on the orange tint of the walls.”

The Molitor’s 2014 reopening awakened in Rigoulet a mood of pools that only the Impossible Project’s SX-70 could allow him to recapture. For him, it was a chance to unite two worlds separated by 30 years, unveiling a magical place in the process.

“This film makes us think of the 80s, the washed out colors of Polaroid photos of the time, a vintage touch that’s still very contemporary,” says Rigoulet of the film stock. “I asked my friends to pose throughout the whole year. The water is always warm.”

It is this Piscine Molitor that Rigoulet likes to recall and capture photographically, not its post-1989 closure’s mecca for graffiti, memorable raves and late night parties.

“That’s not interesting to me photographically and I didn’t take any pictures of those times,” says Rigoulet.

“The choice of displayed images is very graphic—it shows the relationship of the body and a rare architecture in the middle of these colors that are unique for a pool,” he adds. “The Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible SX-70 film mix square format and colors that play with time, making photos that are both contemporary and timeless.”

Discover the true decadence of the full series on Gil’s website.