The Broken Mirror


Boxed In, photograph

“A photograph is only a fragment, and with the passing of time it’s moorings become unstuck.”

– Susan Sontag

More thoughts inspired by On Photography by Susan Sontag…

Sontag talks about the discreteness of a photograph and the effect of that on how we see things. Photographs become untethered from the stream of time they came from. No matter how we felt about the subject at the time we photographed it, over time, those sentiments change. The context is lost, or at least becomes diffuse. Sontag likens photographs to quotations, essential nuggets lifted form their original setting to take on a life of their own.

Of course, photographs always depict the past so are infused with an inherent pathos of nostalgia. This sentimental view of the world as seen through this universal and ubiquitous collection of photographs leads us to a feeling of mastery over it, in the same way that a collector of objects feels mastery over his stamps, coins or dolls.

I wonder how differently people 200 years ago experienced their reality. Was it more fluid and connected? Is the over-used modern term alienation partially caused by the fragmentation of our world into tiny moments of time captured in a photograph? Have we shattered the mirror forever, to find ourselves surrounded by an infinite number of minute shards of glass? Can we ever put it back together to see the whole picture again?

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