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    Posted March 28, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Photo essays: Your stories in pictures

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    The Secret Life Of Swimmers


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     JudyStarkman told me, 'I'm a filmmaker and photographer and love to swim. As I swam I began to notice all these characters and how unique they looked outside the pool.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    Director and photographer Judy Starkman has been a swimmer all of her life, a passion that offers a counterpoint to her life in commercial directing and advertising. It was during one of her hour-long swims at the Culver City Plunge, in Culver City, California, that she developed the idea for a unique public arts project now on display as large-scale banners along Sepulveda Blvd. The project fuses Starkman’s photography and directing endeavors in an integrated project that is part civic promotion, part documentary photography project that includes stills on banners, a short film and a custom website www.thesecretlifeofswimmers.com.

    “The Secret Life of Swimmers” illuminates a story Starkman knows well--that every die-hard swimmer has a life outside the pool. And that swimming is the great equalizer. Each character in “The Secret Life” is seen in the regalia of his or her everyday life and, in an identical pose poolside, baring all. Or nearly all.

    The banners feature such real-life characters as a UCLA English professor, a local chef, a truck driver, a firefighter, a young mother, a veterinarian, and a physical trainer who lost a leg in an accident. Like Judy, all are self-proclaimed lap-swimming “addicts” who have a found a special kinship and community at the Culver City Plunge.

    “No one was afraid to pose for me, or to appear virtually life-size on street poles throughout the city,” says Starkman. “They are young and old. Some are in fantastic shape, but most are just regular people.”

    Starkman says the idea came one day in the locker room, when a middle-aged woman, dressed in a business suit began getting herself ready for the water. “I watched as this obviously high-powered, buttoned-down person ‘transform’ herself in minutes into a swimmer just like all of us. There was such a striking difference in her appearance, I thought about her while I was swimming. I thought to myself, this is her secret life. It was literally then the idea popped in my head for this project.”

    The Director/Photographer envisioned the project as a series of diptych photographs, and began asking swimmers who caught her eye to pose. She would photograph them first at the pool, and then in their “other” environment--business, home, and so on.

    “My first subject was Blake Allmendinger. All I knew was that he was a dedicated swimmer, with a meticulous stroke and a deep tan,” she says. “It turns out he is a professor of English at UCLA who specializes in the history of the American West.” Starkman photographed him in his skimpy Speedo bathing suit poolside, and then in his office where he is researching his next book, and where he feels comfortable wearing some of his western gear.

    Word soon spread among the regulars at the pool, and soon Starkman was busy capturing the “secret” lives of many of her fellow swimmers.

    “One of my subjects was Barry Shore, who by all accounts, is the “happiest” man at the pool,” she says. “Barry’s story is inspirational. A non-stop businessman and entrepreneur, Barry woke up one day -- years ago completely paralyzed. He had contracted Guillain Barre’ syndrome.”

    Barry struggled through years of physical therapy, but never truly regained mobility until he began swimming at the Culver City Plunge. On the street, he makes his way using a walker. In the pool, he swims laps an astounding three hours each day.

    Starkman photographed Jason Christopher, another inspirational swimmer. Jason, a personal trainer, lost a leg in a traffic accident, and “hops” to the water’s edge to begin his swimming routine.

    Starkman is drawn to unique characters, every day real people who reflect the true identity of this diverse city.

    "I always have an eye out for interesting stories or characters and am naturally curious,” concludes Starkman. “It's not something that has an off switch. It's automatic so even while I'm swimming I can see the potential in a subject. The process of discovery is equally as thrilling."

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