After complete module two of the course with the mix feelings of having achieved a decent result in the assignment and the anxiety of having not enough time to end a lot of readings related to portrait photography, I face module three with the introductory exercise where I have to explore my photographic archive looking for “mirrows and windows”.
What is a mirror? According to John Szarkowski, head of the photography department at the MOMA museum who used first time these terms in the introduction of the exhibition held at MOMA in 1978, a mirror is “a romantic expression of the photographer’s sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world”. What characterizes this photographic approach is the pursuit of a personal vision of the world. And in the “windows” vision the photographer and the camera are mere explorers and spectators of the outside world.
It’s worth reading the entire introduction, a short document, that mentions how the two major influences of these two photographic visions were Minor White’s magazine Aperture as a prototype of “mirrow”, and the Robert Frank’s book “The Americans” as a prototypical “window”.
In the exhibition the leading “mirrow” practicioneres were Paul Caponigro, Jerry N.Uelsmann, Robert Heinecken and the painter Robert Rauschenberg. And in the “windows” group the introduction includes Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz.
The introduction concludes stating that this separation exists in photography from its beginning, exemplified in the figures of Alfred Stieglitz (mirror) and Eugene Atget (window), and what establishes what defines each kind of photography is: “is it a mirrow, reflecting a portrait of the artist who made it, or a window, through which one might better know the world?”
The exercise asks to explore our own archive looking for 5 pictures of each group. In the mirror pile I put some pictures which resonate with certain intensity for me, because they are link to circumstances of my life, or they were made in response to personal situations. This pictures are landscapes of my memory, and they are undoubtedly connected to my life.
The windows section is related to street photography, and here I collected situations that I found visual interesting. Most of them were made to complete a collection of visual memories. I don’t have any special attachment with the situations depicted in the pictures, and they are the result of casual encounters.
It wasn’t difficult at all to separate the pictures in these two groups. In most cases, the classification was obvious. But in some other pictures from my archive, the discernment is not so evident because the encounter with the “window” scene took place in an area on where I have strong feelings or personal connections. I would say that a second reading of these picture maybe could find “mirror” reflections on them. Like in a real window, where you can watch your own reflection. For example, the picture of the man and the boy crossing the street was clearly a “window” one, but because it was selected and published in a magazine I have a special connection with it, but that doesn’t mean that it reflects any personal vision of me.