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Reflection lV

Reflection lV

Reflection, 1999

I have many fond memories of gliding on still waters, parting the world doubled, glimpsing the world below, floating in the world above. Piercing the surface of the water, looking above and below it, is one of my favorite things to do. It is a tangible horizon line. It places limits on perception, defining space. It both separates and unites two worlds. It creates the illusion that one world is two. It is likely that it was these experiences that planted a fascination for symmetry within me.

Reflections iv started as a simple exercise in transparency and angle of reflection. The final solution eluded me several times. Unexpectedly a whole new subset of images arose. The first few were rich in color and form. Between the abstract shapes drawn from the world above the surface and the world below the surface, the resulting union was complex enough that there was little room left for the addition of a stone floating above the surface. The images were best treated minimally. With additions, the compositions became too packed, busy to the point of distraction.

The sky in this image is certainly energetic. The dappled clumps of cotton rhythmically echo the repeating shapes of the stones in a soft syncopated staccato. But the volume is subdued. The color is unified and contained; there is variance, but not variety. And the contrast is smoothly modulated with enough contrast to be luminous, but not enough to be harsh. It would be quite difficult, though not impossible, to balance a great variety of color, tone, and shape without overwhelming the ideas contained in the variety of reflections. The picture is clearer and more direct as a result of establishing clear priorities.

My preparatory sketches favored a central placement of a single stone. Once a fitting combination of sky and water coalesced, the composition needed to be redrawn completely. Time and time again I find I must make adjustments between my initial conceptions and their final renditions. I submit myself and my ideas to the process. Both are tested. And both are made stronger as a result. While the essential elements of the concept are maintained, the final composition must take into account the presence of the particulars found within the source material. I listen to the image.

This is, no doubt, why my sketches are made as simple broad strokes delineating only the essentials. They leave room for fluidity in the final rendition. They maintain the capacity to grow and evolve. Often the final image will make a dramatic departure in composition. When this happens, I will frequently sketch an image after it has arrived, rather than before. I find that in stripping things down to the barest essentials and in rendering the image manually, I often understand the image better, both abstractly and kinesthetically. For this reason, sometimes I even make sketches of finished images.

There was a great deal of flexibility in choosing the source material for the reflection of the sky. Any angle would have sufficed. Nonetheless, variances in the angle chosen would shape the angle and depth or recession. As the image reflected displayed a greater amount of information towards the horizon, the image receded more deeply; as it displayed less, the image became flatter and more frontal. Intrigued by the possibility of an image that could be read as both flat, because of the abstract nature of the subject, and deep, because of the recession of space within it, I chose an image with substantial information towards the horizon. Yet, still there remained a great deal of spatial ambiguity which provided considerable leeway in the choice of reflections for the stone.

To confirm my selection of images for the reflections of stones, I staged a replica of the situation. I took a mirror, placed it in front of me at an angle I felt approximated the angle of the reflecting surface, and turned the stone I had selected above it. I had misjudged the necessary angle by some degrees. I needed to make a new selection of images for the stone’s reflections. Luckily, I had made exposures of the stone at varying angles. I simply rotated the stone before the lens, by roughly 45degrees at a time, making complete rotations, both left to right and top to bottom. If I had not done so, I would have had to make new exposures. I chose four stones, and I did not realize until I tested the image that with the chosen angles of rotation I only needed exposures from top to bottom since the other side remained hidden. Five stones or one more rotation and it, too, would have begun to appear.

It wasn’t until I sat back and considered the image that I realized just how important motion was in it. Certainly the stone appeared to move. But even when the hovering stone(s) was fixed, if the reflecting plane moved, so did the reflections. One slight turn and the whole image changed. The plane of reflection and the angle of rotation displayed a nearly infinite number of possibilities.

In order to see significant detail below the reflecting surface, the reflection of the sky had been made transparent along the newly placed shoreline, and so the reflections of the stones needed to be similarly transparent. The reflected image faded from opaque at the top to nearly transparent at the bottom.

This image hovers delicately between abstraction and representation. The image would be substantially different had I chosen to simulate distortion of the surface’s plane. It would have tended even more towards abstraction. The reflections would have shifted wildly. Then only the surface beneath and the stones above would be literally rendered and comparatively stable. Then the mysterious ambiguity between the reflected and the reflection would be dispelled. Here the plane of reflection is perfectly still. Without disturbance the image is serene.