Playful Photos of Southern California’s Swimming Pool Culture


Swimming pools have long been a cornerstone of Southern California’s joyful way of living. A focal point for recreation, architecture, and entertainment, the size and shape of the pool — as well as the carefree activities that take place around it — hold big bragging rights for actors, directors, designers, and artists living in Palm Springs, LA, and the surrounding, arid region. Backyard Oasis — a colorful survey of swimming pools in Southern California photography from 1945 to 1982, which was recently on exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum and also comes as a comprehensive, table-top monograph, published by Prestel — captures the power of the shapely pools and beauties that surround them, in all of its glory.

From architectural gems, once inhabited by Frank Sinatra and Raymond Loewy, and signature artworks by John Baldessari, David Hockney, and Ed Ruscha to sexy celebrities like Rock Hudson and Marilyn Monroe posed poolside and skateboarders riding the curves of empty concrete bowls, Backyard Oasis — encompassing its own massive pool of creativity — packs a cool and powerful punch. Click though a selection of our favorite photos from the exhibition and the book.

Michael Childers, The Hockney Swimmer, 1978. Courtesy Michael Childers. © Michael Childers

Bill Anderson, Rock Hudson, 1954. Collection Palm Springs Art Museum, gift of Dorothy Anderson © Palm Springs Art Museum

Craig Stecyk, T.A. – Model T Front Side or Transvergence, 1973. Courtesy of the artist. © C.R. Stecyk

Bill Owens, He’s a typical Californian who doesn’t know how to relax, 1971. Courtesy of PDNB Gallery, Dallas, TX © Bill Owens

Mel Roberts, Robert and Cliff, Sherman Oaks, 1980. Estate of Mel Roberts © Michael H. Epstein & Scott E. Schwimer. Photo courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum

John Baldessari, Portrait: John Baldessari with Legs Moustache, 1974. Courtesy John Baldessari. © John Baldessari

Herb Ritts, Richard Gere, Poolside, 1982. Courtesy of the Herb Ritts Foundation, Los Angeles © Herb Ritts Foundation. Photo courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum

Bob Mizer, Richard Dubois, 1953. Bob Mizer Foundation Permanent Collection © Bob Mizer Foundation

Kenda North, Untitled (Blue and White Suit and Pool), 1982. Black Dog Collection © Kenda North

Leland Y. Lee, Silvertop – Hollywood Dawn, 1972. Courtesy of the artist and Michael H. Lord Gallery © Leland Y. Lee

Loretta Ayeroff, Pool with Silver Hand Rail and Cactus, 1981. Collection Palm Springs Art Museum. © 1981 Loretta Ayeroff

David Hockney, John St. Clair Swimming (from Twenty Photographic Pictures), 1972. Sonnabend Collection, New York © David Hockney; photo credit Richard Schmidt

Loretta Ayeroff, Abandoned Pool, California Ruins, Perris Valley, 1974. Courtesy of Loretta Ayeroff © 1974 Loretta Ayeroff

Ed Ruscha, Nine Swimming Pools, 1968. One of the nine images. Courtesy Ed Ruscha Studio. © Ed Ruscha

Larry Sultan, Untitled, from the Swimmer Series, 1978. Collection San Francisco Museum of Art. © Larry Sultan