How to Look at a Mirror

© Copyright 2017 Josh Kemp, Ryerson University.

Kemp, Josh. A Mirror. 2016. 

In its simplest form, the plane mirror is a flat surface with which we are able to view a reflection of an image placed before it. The most basic function of a mirror is to reproduce all details of the original light that touches it and reflect this imitation on its surface. Thus, the mirror is a medium used to display what we might consider the best, or most generally reliable, representation of original light (and visual reality) outside of what is seen directly before our eyes without medium. Though it is not often considered as such, the mirror acts as a limited perspectival lens through which we view the world.

We tend to refer to a subject’s relationship with a mirror as though the subject looks at the mirror, or perhaps in or into it. Upon consideration, however, do these prepositions not appear to lack accuracy? Technically, we look at the mirror but the mirror’s surface is rarely the object of focus. When looking at the mirror to view the reflection of our own face, we often take for granted its flat surface until we are forced to notice it with smudges on the glass or cracks in the plane.

For instance, consider the difference between looking into the mirror and looking at a television screen. When looking at a television screen, we rarely acknowledge the glass surface of the screen itself as the object that holds our focus; instead, we focus on the representations of images as projected by minute rays of light that form pixels of colour behind the screen, within the tube itself. Alternatively, in the case of the mirror, the glass surface is the object that reflects the original light to form an inverse representation of the image. Therefore, does it not seem more appropriate to claim that one looks into the television and at the mirror?

It is also important to consider two factors that construct our perception of reality as reflected by the plane mirror. The first being that a reflection is merely a reverse representation. The image in the mirror parallels the object in reality, in that the object in reality is now inversely alike, as opposed to copied or exactly identical. Despite its innate inversion of the object in reality, we seem to trust the mirror as the most precise medium of truth next to our own perception.

The second factor to consider regards framing. The mirror is typically confined to a particular (and elementary) geometric shape and therefore frames the reflections cast atop its surface within that same shape. As in the image above, the surface is framed by the mirror’s edge. This frame then shapes the images reflected on the surface into this circle, depicting not a full reflection of reality, but a confined, circular one.

Therefore, not only does this mirror show a reverse image but also one that is cropped, arguably distancing the subject in reality from the mirror’s image through many medium filters. As there are no infinite mirrors, there is no seeing through them without being confined to their many boundaries.

Work Consulted

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Kemp, Josh. A Mirror. 2016, digital photograph.