- The Big Atlas of LA Pools by Benedikt Groß and Joseph K. Lee
It was a big year for swimming pools, was 2013. In Nice the Été pour Matisse featured not only the Musée Matisse’s new ceramic realization of the artist’s paper cutout La Piscine – in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art – but an exhibition, À propos de piscines, at the Musée d’Archéologie’s Cimiez site near the Roman baths. There, along with Bill Viola’s The Reflecting Pool, the museum played portions of A Bigger Splash, Jack Hazan’s pool-filled movie about David Hockney, the artist whose swimming-pool obsession climaxed with his 1978 suite Paper Pools (pools he made with pressed colour-paper pulp). The year also saw the publication of Elizabeth Tonnard’s One Swimming Pool, a nine-volume, 3164-page book whose pages can be detached and reassembled into a 21 × 21-foot version of one of the pools from Ed Ruscha’s 1968 volume Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass (which consisted of nine photographs of [End Page 78] individual Los Angeles and Las Vegas swimming pools and one photograph of a broken glass). This was also the year Imelda Moise and four others published “Geographic Assessment of Unattended Swimming Pools in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 2006–2008,” in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Their paper, which was concerned with the pools as risks for vector-borne diseases, included three yearly maps of unattended pools and two maps of unattended pool analysis.
But 2013 was also the year Benedikt Groß and Joseph K. Lee published their amazing The Big Atlas of LA Pools. Altogether the atlas runs to 74 volumes; although several copies of the first volume, Process and Overview, have been printed, only one hard copy of the full work exists. Amusingly, the atlas reflects aspects of each of the other swimming-pool projects that surfaced during the year. In fact, while the Big Atlas is an expert and crowd-sourced analysis of National Agriculture Imagery Program orthoimagery, it is also, as the authors admit, “rather an art project,” one that has plenty in common with the work of Matisse, especially his very late paper collages but also his drawings; Hockney, particularly given his fascination with the latest technology; Tonnard, in the sheer massiveness of the project; and Ruscha, for the atlas could easily be called 43,123 Swimming Pools. With the Annals authors the atlas shares an interest in a city’s entire population of pools (there were 7,170 in New Orleans).
If perhaps “rather an art project,” the atlas is primarily “about the process of mapping and map-making in the contemporary age of big data, open data, crowdsourcing, and the citizen scientist.” Crowd-sourcing was a particular fascination: Groß and Lee exploited clipping farms in India and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to address the formidable tasks of extracting and validating the pools. They began with the purchase of true- and false-colour orthoimagery from the National Agricultural Imagery Program. This they shipped to the Indian clipping factory farms, where they paid US$0.003 per pool for workers to isolate the pools and trace their bezier paths. Having reviewed and, where necessary, corrected this work, they resubmitted the imagery to the factories for reprocessing, and then again performed their quality check.
After passing this rigorous inspection, the geopositions (latitude and longitude) of each pool were viewed against higher-resolution (~1 ft) Bing maps as provided by Microsoft. The authors then submitted these high-resolution images to Amazon Mechanical Turk – a crowd-sourcing Internet marketplace that lets users assign tasks to people (again for next to nothing per task) to do things computers can’t – and asked the workers to visually check whether a feature might be a pool (blue water) or not...