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Photographs spill “The Secret Life of Swimmers” onto Culver City streets

by Jonah Lowenfeld

July 25, 2011 | 7:08 pm

Barry Shore, from Judy Starkman's "The Secret Life of Swimmers," now on view in Downtown Culver City.

For anyone who has been to Downtown Culver City lately, the large-scale photos of local swimmers hanging from the lampposts are almost impossible to miss.

“The Secret Life of Swimmers” is a project by Judy Starkman, a Jewish photographer who frequents the Culver City Plunge the city’s only public pool. Starkman spent a year shooting portraits of some of her fellow swimmers, and asked each of them to pose for her twice—once poolside in a swimsuit, a second time somewhere else in everyday clothing.

Starkman documented the process over the course of the year on her blog, and the final portraits went up earlier this month along Culver Boulevard.

Like many swimmers, Starkman clearly feels at home and very comfortable in the water. But in following her subjects to their home turfs, Starkman had to get a bit further out of her comfort zone.

Such was the case when Starkman followed Barry Shore to his Orthodox synagogue.

Shore, Starkman writes on her blog, was paralyzed by a rare disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack part of the nervous system. Shore was able to recover from his paralysis through swimming.

Starkman writes:

Barry arrives at the pool walking with the aid of walker or a walking stick. He still has trouble moving, his nerves did not make a full recovery, but he is walking and not in a wheelchair. As he tells me all the time, “beats a wheelchair, kiddo!”  He has a full time health worker who has to wait three hours for him at the pool because Barry swims three hours a day, six days a week. Of course, he takes the Sabbath off. He swims rain or shine, wind, or snow, as the case was last week. He’s now up to three miles a day.  He swims mainly on his back with the aid of two floatation devices on his withered legs, but he is swimming. He listens to religious tapes and never stops moving.  Swimming has transformed his life.

Starkman’s blog entry about Shore includes her account of meeting the rabbi of his synagogue. “[W]hen I met the Rabbi,” Starkman writes, “and I went to shake his hand,  he skillfully retracted it and with some floundering told me, ‘I..I don’t touch women.’”

The complete series can be found here.

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