The fascination that the image of a mirror awakens in photographers is easy to understand. It is a sort of spell that involves not only the mirror itself (or the element as such and the optical powers it possesses) but also its refractions that give rise to a complex vision of the world, revealing multiple interpretations to perception. The pirouettes and juggles that the external world is subjected to when reflected in the lens —the funnel of The Aleph—are as amazing or suggestive, to say the least, as the magic resurrection of the image emerging from the developing liquids in a traditional dark room. Objects—as if they were gymnasts—are forced upside down in this dark Reverse Kingdom1 and complete spectacular pirouettes to finally settle down, following the rules of perspective, on photographic paper, a computer screen or any other digital means now available.
According to the critic Juan Antonio Molina:
The mirror always connects us to a world hereafter that looks spatial and immediate at the start but turns metaphysical. The mirror restores the other in the belief that the other is oneself. While the mirror reveals the existence of a spatial world hereafter, photography reveals the existence of a temporal world hereafter.2
In any way, taking photographs from a mirror is a means to amplify (in a photographic tautological exercise at heart) the same contradictions that build not only the Noema of well-known paradoxes such as document/fiction, univocal reality/open interpretation, or credibility/deceit. These antinomies function as oxymorons in understanding the metaphors of the image and the singular relation of the image with time.
The book Urban Mirrors, by Sergio Castiglione, involves a playful exercise that embraces the mirror as the basis of the composition and mirror refractions as the means to rediscover the spirit of Buenos Aires from its most defining corners. Being an architect, Castiglione is well aware of the significance of architecture and architectural codes, not only in articulating a city plan but also in shaping the cultural legacy of a space that is being redefined every day. The reversed images of buildings in his photographs—refracted in puddles and still water on the streets—provide an unusual vision of the subject matter, a look that is part of the existing data in realistic records and, particularly, in the popular consciousness about dear Buenos Aires that so many artists have evoked either through music or other written or visual poetic means.
The book presents an interesting exercise of appropriation/return that stands out clearly from its editorial conception. If the printed image goes against the logic of construction and the direction of perception, there is a mirror in the last pages that aims at returning credibility by refraction to the realism of photography. Here the fallacy of photography—together with the fallacy of the photographer through his artistic project— fades away and provides a mask of objectivity, giving back to the audience the confidence lost in the illusion of the Renaissance window.
In the opinion of Jorge Luis Borges—Molina reveals in his long essay on the subject—both the mask and the mirror hide very particular associations with horror. “Sometimes (in my most dreadful nightmares)—admits the author of El Inmortal—I see myself reflected in a mirror, but I see my reflection wearing a mask.”3 His incapacity to recognize himself in his “own self” caused Borges frequent nightmares. However, from Castiglione’s approach, the mirror and the mask are mere excuses to chart a chorus of the city involving emotional, historical or geographical elements. Showing largely the spirit or a nineteenth century “flaneur” inspired by Baudelaire, Urban Mirrors gives new value to wandering in the big city as a means to put together an alternative story in the records of big urban stories.
Following this line of thought, it is impossible to leave aside the involvement of contemporary art in psychogeography to give a new value to the emotional component of the city fabric and the vibrant environment. Although the vision of Castiglione is not exposed as a critical strategy to question the network of everyday matrixes and codes, his work can clearly be part of that search for an “emotional chart” that duly mentions Grace Bayala in one of the essays in the book. According to Bayala, “Buenos Aires expands in its reflections and a new city is created where it is impossible to distinguish if the image leads to the word or if it’s the verse itself that becomes lights. A city and a never-ending enigma. A city-book has been opened to the universe and shall never be closed” with wonder and emotion on its pages, the aware of Haiku poetry: “The street is climbing / and through the open window/ I wave good morning” as Mario Benedetti said in a severe 17-mora metric.
1 El Reino del Revés is the title of a well-known children's song by the Argentinian poet, novelist and composer María Elena Walsh (1930-2011), which describes in an innocent tone, a world "upside down", in which both the relationships of the objects and the characters that inhabit it are exactly the opposite of fairy tales. As Nicolás Camargo Lescano pointed out in an article, with her creations, María Elena Walsh "intelligently and subtly revealed the true color and pain of reality that prevailed in the years” of the dictatorship.
2 Molina, Juan Antonio: “La máscara y el espejo. Comentarios sobre la fotografía cubana después de la revolución”, in Nosotros los más infieles. Comentarios críticos sobre arte cubano (1993-2005). Compilation and Edition: Andres Isaac Santana. CENDEAC Editores, Madrid 2008.