Friday, November 28, 2008

Reflections on Reflections

People often praise children's drawings and paintings as more authentic or more expressive than the work of adults, because they have not yet learned how things are "supposed" to look. Now, I'm as fond of my children's productions as any doting parent, but two things have always struck me. First, no-one is as quick to reach for a visual cliché as a kid with a crayon (come on, do you live in a square box with four evenly-distributed windows on the front, each with four panes of glass, and a chimney with smoke curling out of the top? Yes? Then, I've got some lovely drawings of your house you might like to see). Second, kids really don't get colour.

It's not surprising, as colour is mysterious. To photograph reflective surfaces like windows is to get a lesson in the ways of light and colour. Kids and purposeful adults like pure comic-style colours-- broad simplified areas of even tone, perhaps with a bit of light and dark for subtlety. But real colour is fairy dust -- it gets all over everything, and is changing constantly, mercurially. We tend to think of colour as a static property of an object (a red hat, a sheet of white paper), and there are indeed objective ways of measuring and reproducing colours: Pantone, RGB, CMYK and the like are all ways of ensuring you get exactly the right shade of green in your logo. But reflective objects reveal a deeper truth, that colour in the real world is constantly being overwhelmed by and leaking into its surroundings.

Imagine a world made entirely out of multi-coloured mirrored surfaces (H & S Alert: if you've ever taken LSD or suffer from vertigo, you may want to stop reading at this point). Picture everything reflected in everything else, buildings appearing to plunge deep into the ground, clouds floating far beneath your feet, and distorted shapes and colours intermingled everywhere, receding into infinity. Just reaching out to pick up a cup of tea would be quite an adventure.

To varying degrees, of course, that is exactly where we live: there are latent images projected all over everything by light -- all we have to do is make something wet, or smoother, or change the lighting, and the truth of this becomes apparent. Except on the dullest, driest days, colours are rarely purely themselves. Our eyes and brains work very hard to simplify this for us, to make Mirror World into Comic World. But Mirror World and its twin, Shadow World, are always there, just waiting for a shower of rain, a bit of polish, or for the sun to come out. It's a delightful truth told over and over again by Impressionism, and reliably reported by those brainless objects, cameras.


Laminated window, Highly polished floor

Leaf pattern carpet

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