Reflecting on reflection

Sometimes reflection offers us more than we can hope to deal with. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Sometimes reflection offers us more than we can hope to deal with. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

“Reflect” is one of those words that has both physical and metaphysical dimensions. At one level, we’re talking about the action of light on a surface:

1. To throw or bend back (light, for example) from a surface.

2. To give back or show an image of (an object); mirror. [The Free Dictionary]

… and on the other we use it to describe a set of thought processes

4.   a. To think seriously.     

      b. To express carefully considered thoughts [The Free Dictionary]

At this time of year there seems to be a social expectation of reflection and renewal. From a wholly arbitrary point in the way we measure time – midnight on December 31 – we extrapolate a metaphor of change and (usually) improvement. Newspaper and magazine articles tell us how to phrase New Year’s resolutions that will last, how to make sure we stick to them, what other people resolve to do – even the top 10 resolutions. The media also tells us (as if we didn’t know) that hardly any of us keep New Year resolutions.

Insofar as I’ve ever made New Year resolutions, I’m one of the vast majority who falls off whatever wagon I’ve hitched myself to – usually within the first few days of January. Most often I forget that I’ve even resolved to lose weight, exercise more, stop snacking straight from the fridge, keep a diary, write a play, phone my mum more often. Does that mean I didn’t reflect enough on my life? Or on the processes of change? Or does it mean that reflection is not a particularly straightforward process?

When we think of reflection, I suspect our first image is that of a mirror. We stand in front of it and a single image – us – is reflected back. But I think that in the normal course of life, reflection is more indirect, accidental and obscure. It’s more like the photo above – we glance in a shop window that contains mirrors and crystals and other shiny things and what we see is a kaleidoscope of fractured and distorted images. We’re there, but only as one element of a bigger picture. What is “real”? What is reflection? Background becomes foreground and the incidental is magnified.

That’s not to say that we can’t see ourselves clearly sometimes. But I do think it helps to acknowledge that life isn’t lived before a single mirror, and that what looks like a flaw in the isolation of one lens can be utterly beautiful in the interplay of many.

I also think that if you really want to change something, do it now. Don’t wait for New Year (although yes, I do know it’s only a short wait).

This post was written in response to Sue Llewellyn’s Word a Week Photography Challenge which you can find out more about here.

Here are some other posts on the theme that I enjoyed:

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge: Reflect

Reflections on 2013