Mirror, Mirror - a new collection
Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who in this land is fairest of all?
Snow White, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by D. L. Ashliman. © 2002-2005, original German text Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Sneewittchen, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, (Children's and Household Tales -- Grimms' Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 53. "Spieglein, Spieglein, an der Wand / Wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?"
Practically speaking, mirrors are an excellent prop for the compositing artist to use with professional models, who are performance artists capable of expressing a vast range of emotions and poses. You can easily create a photographic diptych with a mirror, a camera mounted on a tripod and some simple lighting (oh, and a little work in Photoshop).
Diptychs are perfect for photographic story-telling. In Western art, the diptych and triptych are traditionally a narrative art form. Historically, a diptych consisted of two contrasting images presented together to make a point. According to Eric Dean Wilson, we have narcissistic Romans to thank for this.
“The form follows a long tradition that began in late Western antiquity, when Romans appointed to the consulate in the 4th – 6th centuries A.D. commissioned ivory tablets carved with their own likenesses on each panel.”
-- Eric Dean Wilson, Regarding Diptychs, The American Reader, http://theamericanreader.com/regarding-diptychs/
Two images set side-by-side and hinged in a portable, protective case could be used to tell simple stories and express the dualities of life, a virtue not lost on the early Christians seeking to popularise their faith to the illiterate masses.
"The narratives of the New Testament are filled with paradox—Christ is both fully human and fully divine, both dead and alive—and the diptych offered reconciliation. Two stories, set parallel and given equal weight, merge into one, and the hinge offers a moment to chart similarities and differences. The iconic diptychs also became holy objects themselves, capable of healing and calming the mind. A meditation on the two panels could bring one closer to God.”
-- Eric Dean Wilson, ibid.
The narrative diptych became an enduring form of religious iconography in Christianity. They were especially popular during the mid-15h to early 16th centuries in Northern Europe, where they were often used as altarpieces. The art form is perfect for presenting ideas that bounce off and wrestle with one another, and it has been used as such ever since in secular Western art, even today. Andy Warhol’s pop-art Marilyn Diptych (1962), for example, presents a repeating pattern of a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. On the left-hand side of the diptych her image is in colour. On the right, the pattern is presented in black and white, and fades away to the right-hand side of the panel. The effect is haunting.
Mirrors have a special place in art. If art has purposes, one is to confront us with a reflection of who we really are and what we really do, both literally and metaphorically. The tale of Snow White features one the most famous mirrors of all, because it's magic, it talks, and it doesn't hold back:
"One day when the queen asked her mirror:
'Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?'
'You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you.'"
This was how the original Brothers Grimm text had it. Two other versions are well-known: Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, by P & I Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, and Disney's classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
What's Snow White about? A reflection on the murderous, sly evil hidden in a fading beauty? The perils of vanity? The green-eyed monster of jealousy? The peril of measuring a woman's worth by physical appearance alone? The fraught link between youth and beauty? Jungian archetypes of primordial child and earth mother, and their strained relationship? That old saw of step-mothers and daughters?
The series allows me to play with these themes and more. How do we perceive ourselves? "Am I beautiful? Am I fair? Am I attractive?" Why do these questions matter? Why do some of us feel that our reflection is unworthy, when those around us call us beautiful? What pressure does society place upon us to look beautiful, and how do we feel when we don't measure up? What are we really thinking when we project our propaganda images? And what is beauty, anyway? These are some of the questions this series raises.