Dive into the past at Edinburgh's Victorian swimming pools

Edinburgh's renowned Victorian swimming baths are the focus of Soo Burnell's latest exhibition, Poolside. The photographer explains the inspiration behind the photographic project

The exhibition, Poolside, July 6. Pictures: Susan Burnell
The exhibition, Poolside, July 6. Pictures: Susan Burnell

You have been photographing all of Edinburgh’s Victorian pools. Tell us more about the project?

I have been working on a series of poolside images of Edinburgh’s five public Victorian swimming baths. I wanted to photograph these buildings showing the beauty of the architecture and minimising all of the modern elements. I love the geometry of the tiles, the lines on the bottom of the pool and the typography, the ‘Deep End’ signs and all of that. I was really inspired by the idea of having a slight quirky Wes Anderson feel to them, especially with the pastel colour palette, including the little swimmers to add a human element.

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Why did you want to document them?

The Victorian pools are still a huge centre point for their communities

I took some photographs in Glenogle at the beginning of the year after having plans to add some water prints to my existing print collection. I absolutely fell in love with the building. I had forgotten how amazing it was with the high ceiling and changing rooms round the edge of the water. I have a real passion for architecture and as soon as I photographed Glenogle I knew I really wanted to photograph them all. I used to swim at Glenogle in the summer holidays as a child and I think that was the last time I had been there. I also swam for Warrender Baths Club and went to Portobello with my grandmother. She swam at Portobello every week well into her 90s. I have such fond memories of these pools.

Do you have a favourite?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Turkish baths at Portobello. That room is amazing. I had never been to Dalry baths before. It was buzzing the day I photographed it, and I felt it had a very different atmosphere to the others. There were lots of children chatting and laughing, waiting for their swimming lessons to start. It felt like a real focal point to the community. Some of the others were more serene and calm. For example Warrender is a very beautiful pool with those arches at the end and there are still remnants of old signage etched into the stone. I couldn’t pick a favourite. I love them all.

How important is it to record the history of our swimming pools?

Susan Burnell said she was inspired by each pool's 'beautiful architecture, shapes, lines and reflections'

I didn’t set out to record them historically. I have been trying to find out more about the history of the pools and have not had much luck, especially with Leith Victoria. We are really lucky to have these beautiful pools still in use in our city and maybe the photographs will remind people how lovely they are.

For the photographers among our readers what were the technical challenges of these shoots? Did you have temperature issues? What cameras did you use?

There were no major technical challenges, although it was absolutely roasting poolside. It was a little less so for my models who got to go in the water. I love shooting with Nikon. My current camera is the Nikon D5 and I use a Manfrotto tripod with a joystick head. I have had it for ages and it’s still exactly what I need.

Where can people see the exhibition?

Picture: Susan Burnell

Saorsa Art Gallery, 8 Deanhaugh Street , Stockbridge, Edinburgh, 7-15 July, noon to 5pm.

What’s next for you?

It would be great to add to this series and photograph more of Scotland’s Victorian pools and also some of the outdoor ones too. I have seen a few fantastic ones that I would love to visit. You can see my latest work and details of up coming exhibitions on my instagram account sooukdotcom (www.instagram.com/sooukdotcom) or sign up to my mailing list at www.soo-uk.com

All work in the exhibition is for sale in various sizes and limited editions and can be bought from Saorsa Art Gallery, or via www.soo-uk.com/poolside