Me in the Mirror

Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer or the mirror?’ Picasso

I love this quote. It gets at something paradoxical about mirrors. I got thinking about mirrors for two reasons: first, I’m currently reading Jorge Luis Borges’ Labryrinths, a collection of his short stories that deal with time, identity and imagination. Borges was intrigued by mirrors, finding them “monstrous,” shot through with deep philosophical paradoxes; second, given I’m pretty much confined to the house these days, I’ve been going through my photo archives and trying to put some order to all the chaos, and I’m uncovering lots of photos of me in the mirror. Mind you, most of them were taken when I was young, long before the selfie was a thing. At the time they were just throwaways, last exposures on a roll that needed to be developed. Now they’re the keepers. Funny what time does. I’m glad I had the foresight to take them, and thankful that photography gave me the means to do so.

I was 17 when I took that picture. I still have a vague remembrance of doing it. (The fact of the memory says something about a continuity between that 17 year old and me.) Some young lady had written something in lipstick on the mirror and I thought to preserve it with a photo. I ended up getting the photo above, which to me is much more interesting than what was written by someone long forgotten. Apparently, that’s ‘me’, although I feel at most a tenuous connection to the person shown. What that connection is I’m not sure. Is that really me? I do remember the camera – a beat up black paint Nikon F body with a scruffed up chrome FTN Photomic prism, my first ‘real’ camera. I remember being so proud of it, as if it had some magical power to produce better photographs than the consumer grade cameras my parents had heretofore given me. Ironically, it probably did allow me better photos by giving me a confidence in a vision that was capable of being revealed by such a sophisticated instrument.

I love the serendipity of the picture too, the off-kilter framing with the window and curtains hinting at something other than a mere reflection of who I was. That 17 year old kid, learning about what made a compelling photo, I’m sure would have passed this one up when reviewing its contact sheet, everything about it being wrong from what Popular Photography told me made a good photo. Now, I find it a really compelling photo, which should tell me something about the relationship of that person and the person I’m now.

Hits: 7

21 thoughts on “Me in the Mirror

  1. Rob Campbell

    I envy you your hair, man!

    If you handn’t tried to be so friggin’ cool, and had held the camera to your eye, I would now have been able to read her note, which looks like part of an “I love you” declaration!

    But again, I still envy you your hair.


      1. Rob Campbell

        Mine too, just a remnant of a rat’s tail. I blame the loss on Tony Curtis and those barbers with the chemicals and over-heated blowers that welded the hair in the front into a V wave. By the time I let it grow, from the 60s, the damage had been done…

        The pony came after my wife died: I figured that I’d already lost so much of it, and since she’d been my barber and I hers, I wasn’t about to find a barber and pay him money for nothing for cutting the little that was left – just let it grow as it might, and put the problem behind me. It’s constantly becoming a lesser problem. One day, I might be able to say no problem, and mean it.

        I got my first Corona shot yesterday; apart from a sore arm today, nothing else seems untoward. The second dose is due on the 15th of April. Fun, innit. It’s the Pfizer variant.

  2. Lee Rust

    Off-center and slightly out of focus, just like most of us are at that stage of life. Who among us didn’t take a proto-selfie teenage mirror picture?

  3. Mark Whitney

    I too was messed up by “Popular Photography” and their ilk when I was a kid just figuring out photography. It’s taken many years to repair the damage done.

    Love this shot. I think it’s what my college age son would call a photograph of a liminal space – a place between one existence and another. He tells me that’s what all the cool kids are shooting these days.

      1. Rob Campbell

        Now that I think of it, your selfie reminds me of Gram Parsons. I really enjoy the framing that includes the curtain; it would have been so easy, instead, to go closer to the mirror and lose the whole effect.

          1. Rob Campbell

            I’d ask my mother, Keith, but she’s up there in heaven with Ann. I always figured she liked Ann more than she liked me; I could understand that quite well. In some ways, I felt that after I married, I had two mothers…


          2. Leicaphila Post author

            Interesting thought, although there’s a woman in New Jersey who swears she’s my mother.

    1. Rob Campbell

      My Pop Phot experience is the opposite: I used to go hunting at the Glasgow Central rail station kiosk every year looking for the Pop Phot Annuals (I can’t remember seeing the monthly mags for sale there) and between the straight Annual and the Color Annual, I found really interesting imagery. In fact, it was the ’59 edition of one of them that first showed me the wonderful colour world of Saul Leiter, for which I am very grateful. A coincidence that ’59 was also the year of the peak Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

      Did anyone else know that Cadillac is a town on the canal between Bordeaux and the Mediterranean? I wonder if there is a historical connection way back sometime when?

  4. Keith Laban

    I like the image, you obviously had the ‘eye’ at 17.

    When I look back at myself as a 20 year old, fresh out of art school and about to embark on a career as an illustrator, painter and eventually a photographer, I wonder with the benefit of hindsight, would I have done anything different?

    The answer is probably very little, other than to give up smoking, learn to like myself a little more and to worry less. Perhaps with that advice taken I’d now have more of my hair!

    1. Rob Campbell

      Yep, he did have the eye even right then, and as with most of us who had it, I think we can never really lose it, even if we slack off now and again and do nothing. It’s built into our nature. I am absolutely convinced that I could go out to some location with a model and seamlessly slip right back into what I used to do those years ago.

      By the look of your own photo, you should have gone into music instead: I can see the Stratocaster even as I look! Those record covers would have been amazing! Listening to Radio Caroline Flashback as I walked the patio today on my dreaded, obligatory two-hour walk, I heard a George Harrison song: can’t recall the title, but thought there was good reason why Paul and John tended to keep him muzzled.

      On the matter of liking oneself a little more: I varied, but mostly I had a rosy vision of how bright I was. It took retirement to show me, instead, how wrong I was. On the basis of third time lucky, perhaps I’m perfect now.


  5. Hank

    A time machine/portal. A story is here to be seen – for you remembered; for the rest of us, constructed.
    Your expression is perfect. Love it.

  6. Brian

    Great shot- and Great Hair!

    In my mid-60s now, figure with the Pandemic why get a Haircut. Way more grey, I just tell people I earned it.

    Do you still have the Nikon? I still have the Minolta Hi-Matic 9 I bought in ’69. Gave it a good CLA last year.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      The Nikon is long gone. I traded it in for a brand new M5 and a hunk of cash at Cambridge Camera in NYC in 1977. I’m sure it’s still floating around somewhere, probably commanding a premium price given its “patina” ie it was beat to hell.

  7. Rob Campbell

    Ah, New Jersey… I don’t think my mother ever went there. Must have been another celestial connection instead.

    Incidentally, my telephone company has sent me a missive advising that my cable/tv package is going up in cost from next month because of Covid putting suuuch a strain on services, and that they have to pour more resources into broadband etc. and that not to worry, my connection has been powered upwards.

    There is always an upside to tragedy, it seems. It can be monetized.

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