Lost in the Mirror? (Baby Doll in Warped Mirror)
About The Study
FYS Instructor: Miranda Zent
FYS is an interdisciplinary course where students explore a variety of humanities topics through research, seminar discourse, analytical writing, and creative experimentation. As students experiment creatively, we often encourage them to take risks and create using methods in which they might feel less fluent, to explore using media outside of their realm of expertise. We support this in an effort to free students from the attention they might otherwise devote to technique, form or craft, forging an opportunity for students to focus their creative energies entirely on the exploration of ideas. The artifact that results from this kind of risk-taking can ultimately appear more raw and perhaps technically less proficient; but the creative process often flourishes with invention as students give themselves permission to fumble around, create from scratch, and make room for insightful serendipity, as Cheryl’s study turned out to be.
Cheryl is quick to assert that she isn’t a photographer. She arrived at these images by way of experimenting with what she calls her “lousy” digital camera, because, as she wrote in one of her papers, “to truly study the self you must first take a step back from it; only that way can you have a wholesome view of what is before you.” In taking a step away from her usual way of working, she found another means of stepping back, and ended up capturing a complex idea in a technically simple way.
These three images offer a visual representation of an aspect of Charles Horton Cooley’s writing on the "Looking-Glass Self" (which my class studies as part of the FYS topic Composing a Self). The images themselves came rather quickly to Cheryl (she sent them to me following the first class we talked about Cooley’s theory) but articulating their potential meaning invited a more lengthy process. At first, Cheryl thought this was a study on how mirrors lie—undoctored photographs that illustrate how mirrors can be warped, how they can tell us things that are untrue. But as she spent more time with these images, they became a kind of visual map that led to more complex concepts, and Cheryl’s analysis evolved to the sophisticated and perhaps more troubling ideas she explores with notable clarity in her accompanying rationale. Ultimately, Cheryl’s work with these images was ideal—they surprised her a bit, and they guided her towards deeper insights that this especially thoughtful student recognized and wrote about with aplomb.