The Reflections collection visually captures Midtown Manhattan, May through October, 2019. The collection offers a meditation on surface, structure, reflection, perception, and reality.
In creating the images I observed that, in addition to all the other numerous and interesting things you might want to photograph in a major city, the mirror glass of Midtown buildings produces striking reflections. When the sun is right, or the clouds just so, or if the crane stops right there, or if I cross the street, they are like expansive movie screens.
When I started paying deeper attention to the still images I captured from these “movies,” several fundamental questions began to arise: What is a flat surface? How do the structures affect the surfaces? What is a reflection? What are we perceiving? What constitutes reality?
(Additional comments follow after the images...)
MORE ON REFLECTIONS
When glass is manufactured the surface has a tolerance, a specification of dimensional range, for flatness. The thickness might vary by a few millimeters, but it’s never perfectly flat. Further, as the glass window panes are installed, the attachment mechanisms also have tolerances. Each corner might vary by several millimeters from the frame. This is unnoticeable from 40 floors below. But the surface textures and panel tilts of each pane change the reflections, even when the panes are all nominally on the same surface and facing the same direction.
Surfaces require a structure to hold the glass. These structures, sometimes imperceptibly, define the ultimate potential and absolute limits of the reflections they offer. Structures determine how the window panes make up the surface planes, how the corners fit together, how thick the frames are. Glass can be mounted in many ways – with wood or plastic or rubber or metal or brick or cement or steel – and those mounts form a grid which can be thin or obvious or dominant. These grids divide the surface world into component pieces. But then, looked at long enough, the grid disappears. Similarly, the cognitive structures of our minds, patterned over time, define our ability to perceive and the limits of our reality, but they too can become invisible, yet remain inextricable.
The reason we are able to see reflections at all is because the glass is a solid surface. But glass is not exactly solid; it is, in fact, a slow-moving liquid. Before the fleeting, ephemeral reflection photons hit our senses, they have been deformed oh-so-slightly, each moment in time, by the molting molecular nature of the glass. Most things that look stable are actually changing all the time. If you look closely, nothing is stable — really, ever — even if it appears so.
Our perception of reflections immediately increases our awareness that there are multiple planes of experience. Reflections can change our perspective immensely, oftentimes adding multiple, overlapping interpretations of a scene. There is a surface, which frames the reflection. There is a reflection, which might be distorted in any number of ways. The reflective surface is also transparent, and there may be objects behind the surface, such as lights and signs, superimposed on the reflection. If you move your body one step the entire scene changes. Depending on an uncountable number of factors, there may appear two entirely different scenes enmeshed together: One indoors and one outdoors, intersecting on the glass, changing each moment, as the movement of people on an upper story, behind the glass, merges, from our perspective on the street, with reflections of the world, on the glass. This enmeshment is utterly dependent on the vagaries of our planet, spinning in space, circling a burning sun 93 million miles away, where the light is always moving, always changing color, always affected by the atmosphere. Should two pieces of mirror glass intersect at a corner, infinity is possible.
In real time our minds must assemble an image of reality that makes sense to us. This collection of images celebrate beauty that is available every day on the streets. But the mind, striving to maintain the illusion that a comprehensible external world exists, filters and packages this beautiful raw optical data into patterned, predictable, and understandable chunks of meaning: “That is a building; that is the corner of a building; that is the reflection of a building corner on a building; that is a reflection of a reflection of a building behind me; that building is bent in half, though, wait, no, not really.” This endless juxtaposition of reflected image fragments produces an enormous cognitive load when one is simply navigating the urban landscape. It’s amazing we can do anything at all beyond decoding such visual chaos of our built environment. Perhaps there may come a day when mirror glass is regulated or illegal, the cognitive and social costs too high?