Mirror Mirror on the Wall
No matter how ugly you are, you’re not a real photographer if you never did a self-portrait in the mirror.
It’s a must. And you know that. It has nothing to do with vanity: we all did or tried it. And you can list a huge amount of excuses: you’re bored, you wanted to give a try, you wanted to experiment, you felt gorgeous or you just wanted to challenge the mirror with your ugliness.
We all did.
And we are not talking about conceptual self-portraits, like in the “A self-incarnation of the superego“.
To show the new camera and its happy owner or an excuse to show your great abs. You did it, and there’s no reason to hide it or to be ashamed of that, most of the great masters in photography did the same and showed to the world.
Maybe the most well known self-portrait in the mirror is the one taken by Stanley Kubrick in 1940 (above).
Some people focus on the camera, some others on the background or on their own face. It’s cool to do it if you have a Rolleiflex, it’s a moment for you to show the world how cool you are just by having one.
And here we have wonderful Self-Portraits in the Mirror. Even Paul McCartney did one. Diane Arbus. Eve Arnold. Alberto Garcia-Alix. Helmut Newton. Ise Gropius. Lee Friedlander. Man Ray. Marianne Breslauer. Nan Goldin. Jorge Molder. Robert Doisneau. Sally Man. Vivian Maier. Irving Penn…
I know you did one too. It’s obvious, and you have a mirror for that: to show whose behind the great photographs that you do. With or without the camera reflected on the mirror.
But let’s go further then this.
And no, we’re not talking about reflex cameras or the mirror inside, which can be quite curious all the mirrors play: mirror inside shooting mirror outside.
As I wrote at “Notes On: Persian Photography“, the Islam laws about depicting human beings changed with photography. The Persian King Naser al-Din Shah Qajar made it clear: photography is nothing more than a printed reflection of what you can see in the mirror.
It is also a way of us being there not being. To do a self-portrait we need to be in front of the camera. To do a self-portrait with the mirror, we are not in front of the camera. In fact, we’re not taking a self-portrait but we’re taking a portrait of our reflection in the mirror. We’re taking a photograph of the mirror… which has our own reflection.
A self-portrait in the mirror is much more than a basic self-portrait. It’s a game. It’s a play with our ghosts and reflections.
And as a side note, searching for some of the photographs that I shared here, I found a very interesting article about self-portraits in the mirror by Lyle Rexer: “I’ll be your mirror“, ending with Kafka:
“There is, for all the humour, something incredibly claustrophobic about these images in which the photographers look like trapped creatures emerging momentarily from a cave. One of Kafka’s parables goes: “A cage went seeking a bird.” Is this not a metaphor for photography to replace the mirrors and windows?”
Now, confess yourself: How many “selfies” did you take?
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