“I hate cameras,” writes J Bennett Fitts. “But love photographs.” For someone who hates his tool of choice, the 35-year-old photographer certainly has a facility with it–he’s received recent write-ups in the New Yorker and Art in America.
No Life Guard on Duty is the Missouri-born photographer’s ode to the motel pool. He traveled 20,000 miles across the American southwest to shoot the series, seeking out abandoned motels in once-great seaside resort towns like Panama City Beach, Florida, and Salton Sea, California. Each pool and motel has its own local charm–one is shaped like a palm frond, and another has its own white picket fence. Somehow, the photographs feel prehistoric (or posthistoric, for that matter), full of sulfuric sunsets, overgrown palms, and dusty hills.
Fitts has since settled in L.A., where he lives with his wife and twin girls. His most recent series–as of yet untitled–focuses on the L.A. River, that misnomer of an industrial creek that runs straight through the city. But rather that focus on the canal’s well-documented dangers–toxic sludge, flash flooding, etc.–he’s sought out people for whom the river is life-giving. Shot at dawn and dusk, the wide-angle photographs frame fisherman and swimmers against unexpectedly sublime landscapes.
Some of Fitts’ photographs could easily be classified as “ruin porn.” And sure, there’s definitely a certain symbolism in a decrepit pool, once the site of so many “good times.” But he deftly evades that genre by pointing out evidence of life, if you look closely: an empty pool filled in with well-manicured grass, or an ant-sized family and their dog crossing over the shimmering L.A. river.