mirror, mirror on the wall...

Kristin - 111111

How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk, there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink... Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
Mirror, mirror on the wall, which of me is the fairest of all?

I recently listened to NPR's Radiolab.  The episode was exploring symmetry and our search for it.  They had a fascinitating segment on how we are not what we see in the mirror, we are the symmetric reflection of it. 
Go to a mirror and look at yourself.  When you look in the mirror you are not looking at how everyone else sees you.  You are looking at the symmetric reflection of yourself.  Raise your right hand and touch your left ear.  Your reflected you is raising its left hand touching its right ear.  Unless you have no hair part or part your hair down the middle, the part is on the opposite side.  You are seeing your reflected self.  It is not the view of your friends see.  Only you see yourself in the mirror.

If you don't quite understand the difference between what you see in the mirror vs. the way people see you, look at the photos below of Abraham Lincoln.  The first one is the familiar view of the president.  The second is reflection of the the first.  It is how Lincoln saw himself in the mirror.  Notice the difference?

Source - Radiolab
Source - Radiolab

I am used to seeing my reflected self multiple times per day.  I am used to my birthmarks, moles, hairline, freckles, and asymmetric aspects of my face.  When I see a photo of myself, I rarely feel totally comfortable with it.  It is not the me I am used to seeing.

In the Radiolab piece, they tell of a college student that was being excluded from groups as a nerd and felt lonely.  He looked in the mirror and liked what he saw, but wondered why he was so easily disregarded.  As an experiment, he changed a key part of his symmetric self, his hair part.

Almost immediately he noticed changes in how people treated him. They were more accepting and open to him.  Some of these changes could have been an unconscious attitude switch leading to more self confidence, but he felt it was largely due to sharing how he saw himself with the world and not just the mirror reflection of it.

Movie Still
Promotional Poster

 In the Superman comic books and movies, the artists took this into account.  Clark Kent parts his hair on the right.  Superman parts his hair on the left.  This is interesting because it agrees with some of the research mentioned in the Radiolab segment.  We unconsciously tend to emphasize the left side of our faces over the right side.  This may be due to an interpretation that the left side shows more confidence, power and strength.  Clark Kent is weak clumsy and parts his hair from the right side.  Superman, the ultimate male, parts his from the left.   As mentioned in Kill Bill 2**, Superman is Superman.  He puts on the costume of Clark Kent to fit into humanity.  How does he view humanity - as weak and clumsy, all the way down to the haircut.

 Video - Note the change in hair part

As a photographer, I have to remember a key fact of the art.  Photographs show how everyone sees the subject, not necessarily how the subject sees him/herself*.  This may be why the toughest critic of a photograph is usually the subject.  I know I am when I see a photo of myself.  I like the mirror me much better.

Bonus videos
Christopher Reeves was great in the role.  I love his expression when he sees the first available phone booth.

* The camera on my iMac produces a mirror image, kind of interesting.

** Kill Bill 2 Superman dialogue.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating, Karl. I had never seen the Lincoln mirrored image. How strange. In photography we see ourselves as others see us. That's quite earth shaking if you think of all the centuries when no one saw anything except a mirror or water reflected image of themselves. These perceptional details really mess with my mind!!! Again, which is the true reality - your perception or that of others?

    Great post!!


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