The water is inky black. It has mass. Weight. Foreboding. The children are partially seen, and look more sculptural than human as depicted in 18 black-and-white photographic prints.
These pictures of innocent children playing in the pool, the summer sun overhead, are more than simple vacation shots. They capture anxieties of deepest, darkest kind: those of motherhood. “A Day at the Pool: Photos by Na’ama Batya Lewin” is a small but lovely show hanging in Photoworks Gallery, a working photo studio/gallery based at Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The glossy archival ink jet prints were shot about three summers ago, in 2012, when Potomac-based photographer Lewin took an old camera that she had rejigged for infrared shots to the pool with her. There, as she supervised her then 10 and 7 year old children and their friends, while they splashed and dove, paddled and floated, she did what she knows best: took pictures.
The result is high-contrast art prints where the water has become a roiling van Gogh mass of thick black, gray and pewter waves, while the children glow, their limbs like Michelangelo marble-cut sculptures shimmering against the dense dark waters, made so by the infrared filter on the camera.
Lewin, who teaches photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in the District and coordinates the art school’s Shatz International Exchange Program with Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, has long focused her lens on images that explore women, their bodies and their roles in society. She has said that the responsibilities and expectations of being a woman, a wife, a mother and a daughter are an integral part of her long-term photographic explorations. A former photographer and writer for Washington Jewish Week from 1991-94, Lewin has documented on film and video women at home, at prayer, in the mikvah and more.
These recent photo prints are dazzling, as droplets of water glisten like sprays of diamonds in the heavy afternoon air against a dark boiling sea of pool water. The kids are seen for the most part only partially — an opalescent arm jutting from the heady black waters, the bottoms of a pair of feet floating incongruously. But within the beauty of the contrasting darkness and light, there is also fear, or terror, or anxiety. We see no faces, no joy, no smiles. The photographs are crystalline and antiseptic. Lewin gives us body parts: backs and shoulders, a forehead, fingers and toes, a goggled and bathing capped head pushing through a cascade of splashes.
And that lends the pieces their death-like demeanor. Are these corpses? Drowned Victims? Dismembered body parts?
Lewin wrote in her artist’s notes:
“I stand watching them dive, jump, tumble and splash./They are wet, giggling and having a great time. Fabulous!” Then the mother-anxiety kicks in. She continues: “Type ‘swimming dangers’ into a Google search and 13,100,000 results appear in less than .34 seconds. These images speak fears that I cannot say out loud.”
For Lewin’s photographs speak for mothers — Jewish or not – everywhere about the worry, the love, the obsession, the joy, the toil, the emotional highs and lows that are all encompassing.
“A Day at the Pool,” photos by Na’ama Batya Lewin, will be on exhibit through Feb. 23 at Photoworks Gallery at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Hours are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. See www.glenechophotoworks.org for more information.