Double Take: Mirror Images

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.

Detail view of typical window trim - Whitesbog Village & Cranberry Bog, Suningive House & Garden, 120-34 Whitesbog Road, Pemberton, Burlington County, NJ. Photo, 2001. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.nj1778/photos.200799p

Detail view of typical window trim – Whitesbog Village & Cranberry Bog, Suningive House & Garden, 120-34 Whitesbog Road, Pemberton, Burlington County, NJ. Photo, 2001. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.nj1778/photos.200799p

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.

INTERIOR, FIRST FLOOR, DETAIL OF HALL MIRROR REFLECTING STAIRCASE WITH GREEK FRET MOTIF ON THE STRINGER - Samuel Gilbert Hathaway House, Solon Road (State Route 41), Cortland, Cortland County, NY. Photo by Jack Boucher, 1966. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ny0133/photos.115656p

INTERIOR, FIRST FLOOR, DETAIL OF HALL MIRROR REFLECTING STAIRCASE WITH GREEK FRET MOTIF ON THE STRINGER – Samuel Gilbert Hathaway House, Solon Road (State Route 41), Cortland, Cortland County, NY. Photo by Jack Boucher, 1966. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ny0133/photos.115656p

MIRRORED MANTELPIECE, DINING ROOM FIREPLACE - Miller House, 2201 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Photo by Jack Boucher, 1970. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc0012/photos.027468p

MIRRORED MANTELPIECE, DINING ROOM FIREPLACE – Miller House, 2201 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1970. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc0012/photos.027468p

Murphy House, Bibb St., Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.00027

Murphy House, Bibb St., Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.00027

Hopkins room, sideboard with mirror and intricate woodwork. - Stanford University Library, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, CA. Photo by David G. DeVries, January 1995. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ca2000/photos.323722p

Hopkins room, sideboard with mirror and intricate woodwork. – Stanford University Library, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, CA. Photo by David G. DeVries, January 1995. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ca2000/photos.323722p

North Wales Country Club, North Wales, Fauquier County, Virginia. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, between 1930 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.05848

North Wales Country Club, North Wales, Fauquier County, Virginia. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, between 1930 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.05848

Interior view, south corridor at cell blocks eight and nine, facing south (note cell block nine reflected in mirror) - Eastern State Penitentiary, 2125 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1998. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.pa1207/photos.205937p

Interior view, south corridor at cell blocks eight and nine, facing south (note cell block nine reflected in mirror) – Eastern State Penitentiary, 2125 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1998. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.pa1207/photos.205937p

Farmington, Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, between 1930 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.04186

Farmington, Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, between 1930 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.04186

Interior view, detail view of pier mirror, with scale - National Park Seminary, Music Hall, Linden Lane at western edge of campus, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, MD. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 2001. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1510/photos.216721p

Interior view, detail view of pier mirror, with scale – National Park Seminary, Music Hall, Linden Lane at western edge of campus, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, MD. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 2001. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1510/photos.216721p

Gaineswood, Demopolis, Marengo County, Alabama. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.00246

Gaineswood, Demopolis, Marengo County, Alabama. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.00246

Virginia House, Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1929-1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.06474

Virginia House, Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1929-1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/csas.06474

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5 Comments

  1. Zal
    November 29, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Thank you! very interesting and creative!

  2. Larry
    November 29, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Yes, indeed! Very interesting! Thanks for putting this together!

    Larry

  3. Audrey Diffley
    November 29, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    The pictures were fascinating. I enjoy receiving emails from the LOC . I signed up for a number of subjects. Favorites are. the Preservation blog and the Music blog featuring material from many decades in our National History.

    The Library is a National treasure and resource. I hope that more people use the wonderful site’s many features.

    Great job as usual. Happy Hoildays to all !

  4. Jul
    November 30, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    My grandmother took a group of interior photos of her aunt’s home, probably in the late 1930s. In one image you can see her reflection in a large mirror, looking down into her box camera.

  5. Carl Fleischhauer
    December 5, 2017 at 10:38 am

    You have inspired me to spotlight some additional “mirror” images in your collections, from Gordon Parks’s 1942 documentation of Ella Watson, produced at the end of the life of the Farm Security Administration, at about the time the crew moved to the Office of War Information. In the captions, Watson is generally characterized as “government charwoman,” and if you look through the take from this assignment, it is striking how often Parks produced photographs that include mirrors, and how carefully positioned and lit they are, using the flashbulb lighting of the period. (More about this photo assignment in the book I helped assemble, titled _Documenting America, 1935-1943_, catalog record at //lccn.loc.gov/87024598.)

    The mirror photographs featured in this blog offer reflections of the inanimate; in contrast, Parks often made images that grouped people together, although one listed below uses two individuals to frame an informal altar, reflected in a mirror also on the dresser top. Here are a three examples: //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004672676/, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017765081/, and //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017765097/.

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