See the World Through These Amazing Swimming Pools

A floating swimming pool in Amsterdam. Marieke van der Velden

Marieke van der Velden’s photography has taken her all over the world. In 2008, she started an unusual sort of travel diary, when she began taking images of swimming pools in the places she visited. “I found out that in every place I go, there is a swimming pool,” van der Velden said via email. “Being in the neighborhood of a swimming pool always gives me a good feeling, a feeling of rest, like I’m on holiday. That’s a good reason to start a series.”

When on assignment in a new country, van der Velden likes to ask her driver or translator where she can find an interesting pool in the neighborhood. “They always look surprised because they think I want to swim or something. But I don’t have time to swim,” van der Velden said. “Then I explain that I’m doing a project about swimming pools around the world. They start smiling and try to help me with a good spot.”

Van der Velden’s pools may look different from one another, but she said they are similar in that they all tell stories. Sometimes, she said, the pools can be symbolic of a country’s history or character. But she also recognizes her own hand in shaping that narrative. “Each location has so many layers, and I’m aware of that,” she said. “For example, in Colombia, I chose to photograph an empty, old pool, but 500 meters away there was a new one. That’s the power of photography. You can show whatever you want.”

Relaxing by the Dead Sea in Madaba, Jordan.

Marieke van der Velden

One of the swimming pools of former President William R. Tolbert in Gbonga, Liberia.

Marieke van der Velden

A swimming pool five minutes before a huge rain storm in Weotinga, Burkina Faso. Marieke van der Velden

For van der Velden, the pools had various personal meanings. In Iraq, the calm and fun of the swimming pool presented a great contrast to the dangerous area surrounding it. “In a city where you always feel the threat of unexpected bomb attacks, this felt like a safe area,” van der Velden said. “In Baghdad, I saw so many young boys who were so playful when they got the chance to enjoy a swimming pool.”

Watching construction workers on a small ledge near a pool in Bangladesh, meanwhile, drew van der Velden’s attention to the great differences in human experiences. “These construction workers were there on their bare feet working on the 10th floor of a building in the hot sun. One mistake and they’d fall 10 floors down. They earn $1 to $2 a day. And I’m one of the people allowed to do everything, like swimming in this pool, having dinner in this hotel, and so on.”

For the most part, van der Velden said, she doesn’t swim in the pools she photographs, mostly for practical reasons. “When I swim, I can’t make photographs,” she said. “So I’m walking around the swimming pool and don’t even feel the need to swim. I like photography much more.” 

An empty swimming pool owned by a coffee farmer in Colombia. Marieke van der Velden
English students at the end of their internship in a hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. Marieke van der Velden
Iraqi boys playing by a pool near the Tigris river in Baghdad.

Marieke van der Velden

Construction workers work on a new rooftop swimming pool at a hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is on the 10th floor. They are standing on a small ledge on the other side of the infinity pool. Marieke van der Velden
A colonial English swimming pool in Coonoor, India. The house and swimming pool are now owned by an Indian family. Marieke van der Velden
A European guest takes a swim at a swimming pool in Cotonou, Benin. Marieke van der Velden
Girls play at a luxury resort near the sea in Mombasa, Kenya. Marieke van der Velden
The pool of the luxurious Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Only men are allowed to swim here. Noel Kerns