Sink or Swim into the Mexican Watering Holes that Inspire Photographer Francine Fleischer

Karen Kedmey
Jun 16, 2015 7:10PM

Sunken beneath the ground of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, pools of water beckon swimmers from all walks of life. Called cenotes (meaning “sacred wells”), these life-sustaining pools were revered by the Mayans, who believed they were portals for the gods. Among the contemporary visitors drawn to the cenotes is Francine Fleischer, whose lush, eerie photographs of swimmers frolicing in their depths are currently on view in “SWIM: The Water in Between” at Pictura Gallery.


“This series was photographed in a magical mysterious swimming hole that had once been used by an ancient civilization for human sacrifice,” Fleischer has explained. “Today, it is used by swimmers for recreational swim. I’ve been returning to this spot to photograph the ever-changing cast of characters in this pool.” She captures individuals swimming serenely in water barely disturbed by their bodies, as well as masses of people, who agitate the water’s surface with a tangle of arms and legs. 

In Swim 0197 (2013), a lone, male swimmer skims across the surface of a cenote’s black water, his arms and legs outstretched. The paleness of his skin contrasts markedly with the inky darkness of the water, which makes his body seem small and fragile. Further emphasizing this sense of his fragility are his dark swimming trunks, which blend into the color of the water itself. As such, his body appears fragmented—a nod, perhaps, to the pool’s grisly use as a site for ancient sacrifices. More playful is the scene Fleischer captures in Swim 9214 (2013). Here, the black of the water is interrupted by a multitude of swimmers, who churn up its surface into small waves that catch bright glints of sunlight. Standing out from this crowd is a woman in a crimson swimsuit, who floats calmly amid the motion-filled bathers.

For Fleischer, these scenes are full of contradictions—which keep her coming back. In her words: “When I look down on the swimmers in these inky waters, it is a bit like looking down the rabbit hole into another world … the contradictions of light and dark, levity and gravity, reality and revelry, and of course sinking and swimming.”

Karen Kedmey

SWIM: The Water in Between” is on view at Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, Jun. 5 – Aug. 1, 2015.

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