...the erotic entertainment of the shore existed, even for the straw-hatted men and chastely dressed women who posed for photographs at the beach. The camera’s presence there was a defining fact of two leisures, swimwear and photography, both popular and defining artistic beauty as  well as the most popular forms of same. If, in an exuberant stereopticon image,  a male figure rises out of the water to toss his female companion high in the air, the effect is not the misogyny that would be its counterpart on dry land, but rather the clear enthusiasm and cinematic zest for the water of both the man and the woman. Swimming is a social provocation, an edge that may allow for slightly naughty, covertly sensuous behaviour. In fact, those who in the nineteenth century saw the beach as a place of indulgence and iniquity were not entirely wrong; others have simply preferred to answer the siren songs of lively behaviour and even livelier imagination at the water’s edge. Floating and splashing serve as visual conventions for ecstasy, the liquid pleasure of the water, and the freedom from earthbound constraint.

Martin + Koda

Inhabited by legions of beckoning mermaids and sirens, and by silently signalling Tadzio on the Lido, awakened by the night sound  and shimmer, trembling with the transitory ripple of the bird plundering its prey from just below the waterline, sparkling through a Busby Berkeley film, heroic in the grace of Ederle or Weissmuller, pure as baptism, the Narcissus picture plane of water is everlastingly reflective, its pools ever fresh and translucent, its promise of youth, its refreshment an unceasing recreation, a re-creation of womb-life before external life, a re-creation of amphibian ancestors, and even the ultimate recreation of the splash that is the joy of bathing. The odes, romantic paintings, and grandiloquence  expended on water have been ..the zenith of artistic achievement.

Martin + Koda

Spectatorship is as inherent to swimming as it is suppressed as an element of the abstracting, insecure panorama of contemporary life. What we fail to see in the streets, averting our gaze to design and symbol, is palpable at the beach. not only the luminous procession of figures that moves as silently there as on any Greek frieze, but the bright and inevitable joy of observation. A stage for the modern morality play that transforms itself to a theatre of the body, the edge of the water is the brink that clarifies all other borders, that illuminates conventions, remaining dark on land. It gives a dazzling spectacle of youth, fashion, and attractiveness that is in itself an unending parade of evolving fascination. Music halls, aquacades, and even movie sets might seek to replicate the effects of a plane of beauties posed before an arch of heaven, but nature inevitably offers the grander scene and tableau.

Martin + Koda (Still in hyper mode)

Regardless of climate, the domestication and exploitation of the beach as a source of pleasure came only as an offshoot of civilisation. For centuries, of course, the beach had been the liminal space of encounters between Manichean forces of good and evil: between earth and water, man and nature, the civil and the savage, life and death. It was the fragile staging area for expeditions of survival, colonisation, and military conquest. But except for the Greeks and Romans - for whom the sea was as much playground as workplace - it was not a place of diversion, of things sweet and light. First we had to grow radically alienated from nature, by, paradoxically, gaining systematic and wide-scale mastery over it.

Lencek + Bosker

The beach offers a particular fascination, bringing into play pleasurable differences between sea and land, wet and dry, nature and culture. These offer a certain excitation for the body - its exposure to sun and water, for example, with their supposedly health giving properties and the uncertainties associated with them produce a relaxation of social protocols and taboos, allowing for relatively  unconstrained social fraternisation.

Thompson

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