Friday, January 29, 2010

the making of mirrorbox hare

PERUSING PAPER in Texas Art Supply a couple of years ago, I overheard a conversation between two pre-teen girls, probably sisters. They were standing near a rack of tiny plastic animals which could only be called toys — finely rendered toys, but toys all the same. The younger sister, maybe nine, was mesmerized by the animals, picking up now a rhinoceros, now a dragon, now a pig, but the older sister wanted nothing to do with them.

     “No, we’re too old for those toys,” she said. The younger sister blushed, embarrassed by her childishness. So I walked over to the rack, plucked a tiny hare from the furry mammal section and pretended to be very intrigued, turning it around in my hand like a gemstone or a jewel. Seeing how old I was, and seeing how much delight I took in examining the toy, the older girl, immediately realizing the ridiculousness of her position, was stunned into silence. Freed from the toy-numbness of adulthood, for a moment at least, she quickly got down to the business of play, picking up now a zebra, now a lemur, now a unicorn. That’s how the hare came into the picture.

     Back in my Virgin Mary phase, when I was learning how to operate a film camera and photographing every Virgin Mary I could find — headless or otherwise — in the Katrina-ravaged cemeteries of New Orleans, I took an interest in an old plaster figurine my mother had inherited from her grandmother, a bedside Blessed Virgin. I wondered how to photograph it. I wondered what background to use. I wanted to capture in the photograph what I felt when I looked at the small statue — a radiance, a crystalline warmth — so I decided to lay her on her back on a mirror aimed toward the sky, with small pieces of mirror propped up on their edges around her. When I looked down at her through my camera from an aerial perspective it looked like she was floating in the sky. That’s how the mirrors came into the picture.

     A nun at Kinko’s on Tchoupitoulas added the next ingredient. Fresh from the one-hour photo, my exposed roll of film now an enveloped batch of Virgin Mary four-by-sixes, I’d just printed out several enlargements — 100%, 125%, 150%, 200% — and was stacking them together on a table near the out-chute of the copier when a nun walked by and did a double take. I think we both saw it at the same time, how the stacked images seemed to radiate.

     Fast forward to 2008, a clear day in Houston. I take four big bricks, a padded envelope filled with mirror pieces and a chamois for dabbing debris to the sidewalk near the vacant lot across the street where sunflowers grow in summertime, to a spot with no tree branches overhead, and I make my box of mirrors, and I place the hare inside. 

     Perched like a crane on a stool, having descended and ascended half a dozen times to re-orient one side of the mirrorbox or another, having dashed into the field of sunflowers in a burst of inspiration to pick some pretty pink wildflowers, above the assembled mirrorbox but not directly over it — so as not to cast a shadow — I snap the shutter open and closed. That’s how the wildflowers came into the picture.


     Then I crop the edges of the photograph to eliminate the supporting bricks and make successive enlargements on Photoshop, much like I’d done years earlier with the copier at Kinko’s, lightening each successive layer to amplify the radiance.