Upon reflection: Getting into the picture you’re taking

Beauty parlor window, 1965
Beauty parlor window, 1965

A few weeks ago, the International Center for Photography‘s blog, Fans in a Flashbulb, put out a post entitled The Photographer’s Eye or the Eye of the Camera? , which included my photograph above.

The writer, Renske van Leeuwen, was exploring the questions and layers of perception that arise from photographs that include the photographer. In her first two choices, of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andreas Feininger, we see the photographers at work, but the framing of the picture doesn’t tell us whether or not the shot is a self-portrait in a mirror or if someone else is taking the photograph.

In the photograph of Cartier-Bresson, it is not a mirror, but the camera of John Loengard that captures the master at work. But the Feininger photo is a self-portrait in which he points his Leica directly into a mirror resulting in an image where his camera eerily “becomes” his eyes. This image hints at many photographer’s dream. I’ve often said:

if only I had film in the back of my head and could just take a photograph whenever I open and close my eyes!”

In other words, why aren’t my eyes cameras?

Henri Cartier-Bresson in his Paris apartment, 1987, © John Loengard
Henri Cartier-Bresson in his Paris apartment, 1987, © John Loengard

The Photojournalist, 1951, © Andreas Feininger
The Photojournalist, 1951, © Andreas Feininger
Ingrid Bergman on sofa with David Seymour, 1956
Ingrid Bergman on sofa with David Seymour, 1956

I particularly liked the Daivd (Chim) Seymour photograph, where he includes himself in the picture with Ingrid Bergman via the mirror hanging above her. I can completely appreciate the desire to get in to the picture with her, and the mirror provided the means for inclusion, even though her averted gaze doesn’t allow a direct connection. Thus the voyeur views himself viewing her, while she looks elsewhere.

In my photograph above, Beauty Parlor Window, the quality of windows as both mirrors and transparencies offers a multi-layered photograph with a lot of information in it. I liken this a bit to my attraction to Coney Island, where there’s often a lot going on in the crowds that gather on the beach, the boardwalk or the rides. Here the sense of a crowd is created by the window’s reflections, and bringing myself into the photograph was a way of saying that I want to be part of the action. While the four people inside the beauty parlor look directly at me, the background passers-by are minding their own business unaware that I have included them in this moment.

Coming and going, 1966
Coming and going, 1966

In this photograph, taken at the corner of University Place and 14th Street in Manhattan, I have taken advantage of the lighting, which transformed window glass into mirror and placed myself, via my camera, at the intersection of those coming before me and those who’ve passed by, bringing two dimensions of the street corner into one frame. In so doing, I’ve beckoned the viewers to immerse themselves in the crowd together with me and have become a central subject in the composition of the photograph.

Katz's Deli, 1970
Katz’s Deli, 1970

Here in Katz’s Deli at the corner of Houston and Ludlow on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I’ve taken advantage of the mirrored pillar in the middle of the restaurant to insert myself into the hubbub. The view of the Widelux already extends the information in the frame, and the mirror seems more to blend than separate the two dimensions. At the same time, I’ve placed myself directly in the middle of the photograph, using the obviousness of my camera to reveal the truth of the situation (if the gaze of the waiter weren’t enough!)

Take your own photos,  1973
Take your own photos, 1973

But what about this one? The sign says: “Take your own photos!” So, I did! But I didn’t get in the booth to do it! Instead I utilized the outside mirror as a way to catch just the self-portrait I wanted — and without the camera joining me in the picture! Magic! You gotta love photography!

Postscript: Those of you paying attention noticed the vertical orientation of my camera in the horizontal window portraits. In case you didn’t catch my earlier post on the tricks of the Olympus half-frame camera, you can catch it here!

2 comments

  1. Shaun

    I actually hadn’t noticed you in the reflection of the ‘Beauty Parlor Window’ before, but that last photograph in this article is just hilarious!

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