Following on from researching John Szarkowski’s concept of categorising photographs into mirrors or windows (see here) this exercise delves my archive to find photographs that represent the first of these two view points.
A photograph that might be called a mirror will tend towards being subjective as opposed to a window being objective, reflective as opposed to a direct view, expressive rather than documentary and potentially manipulated instead of being straight. So, a mirror might achieve an abstract simplicity and exhibit what Szarkowski calls a “single minded concern for formal coherence” (1 – p.22).
It is perhaps worth stating at the outset that my photography does not lean towards creating mirrors.
Whilst this photograph would probably be interpreted as documentary in nature and thus more obviously classified as a window it is, in fact, highly manipulated. The nuns were visiting the opera house that day but so were many other people and the subjects never organised themselves so neatly on the building’s steps. Their presence imposes a religious status on, what is in essence, a theatre and this connotation of a landmark as a cathedral of tourism continues to appeal. The fabricated reality of the nuns all alone in one of the busiest tourist sites in the world suggests that Sydney has in some way been evacuated and re-populated by an obscure religious order.
Having said that I tend towards windows rather than mirrors I often look for abstract forms in the detail of the landscape. I have included this photograph from a Cape Town market because of the surreal relationship between the tourist masks, the flag and the duvet of eggs. Tightly cropped there is an interesting juxtaposition of the masks with all their connotations of death, secrecy and hidden identity and the interrupted beginnings of life as symbolised by the eggs. The single cracked shell offers itself as a punctum.
This, more recent, photograph is primarily about form. The compass star built into this village’s piazza suggests a certainty of direction which is lacking in the two elderly men, wandering between a shady tree and the local bar. It is graphic and abstract with the patterns formed by the shadows and the mosaic overwhelming any factual information that might be derived from the picture. It occurred to me that the mosaic had connotations of the ancient floors best found to the south around Naples or to the west in Rome with the man in the foreground reduced to being part of the artist’s pattern.
Staying with the idea of form this photograph has all the clichés of a weathered doorway in an Italian wall. The colours are reminiscent of Tuscan holiday brochures and I was intrigued by the prefect framing that had come about through the combination of two trees and a lamppost which is unlikely to have been intentional despite its near perfect symmetry. Doors and openings are obvious metaphors and the sun symbol over the door suggests paganism inside. In my time in Italy I was intrigued by the survival of pagan symbolism and festivals in a country renowned for its Christianity.
My last image can be a metaphor if the viewer wishes but the motivation was simply to capture the contrast of sea, sky, cloud and dead wood.
(1) Szarkowski, John (1978) Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960. New York: The Museum of Modern Art