I did more than a double take when I saw the photograph below while searching in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog – I did a triple and maybe even a quadruple take! Once I convinced my brain of what I was seeing, I knew mirror images would be the theme of this installment of Double Take, an occasional series that takes a closer look at images in our collections.
The replacement of clear glass with a mirror in the window above creates a challenging illusion for the viewer. Seeing this startling effect sent me searching for some of my favorite uses of mirrors among the Prints and Photographs Division’s architectural photographs.
Mirrors serve several purposes in architectural photography. Mirrors are a way of bringing natural light further into an interior area, a crucial need for early photographers before the days of flash photography and electric light. They offer opportunities to show aspects of the space that could not otherwise be shown in a single shot, such as an architectural detail on an opposite wall from the mirror. This approach also gives a better idea of the characteristics of a room, which is a benefit since architectural photographs are a two-dimensional art form attempting to capture a three-dimensional space. Mirrors are also convenient for creating a frame for the image within, an effect also achieved using doorways and windows. And of course, mirrors can create optical illusions and clever tricks of the eye, as well, such as making rooms appear larger than they truly are.
The photos below, drawn from the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South by photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, as well as from the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey, reflect (pun intended!) all of these ways of using mirrors to great effect.
- Explore Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photos featuring mirrors in the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.
- View photos related to mirrors in the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey.
- Take a closer look at the previous entries in the Picture This series: Double Take.
- Watch architectural photographer Norman McGrath in a lecture given at the Library of Congress entitled: What Makes Architectural Photography Different.