Understanding Visual Culture- Exercise 18- The Mirror Phase

To begin with, we were asked to read Jacques Lacan’s article The Mirror-Phase from Art in Theory and make notes. From our notes we were then given 2 tasks

  • Task 1– Annotate 2 examples of Surrealist work that may have echoes of the mirror phase
  • Task 2– Annotate 2 examples of comtemporary media that use Lacan’s ideas

Task 1

Not to be reproduced- Rene Magritte


The above painting was produced in 1937 and was commissioned by Edward James, a poet and Magritte patron. The portrait was based on a photograph that Magritte had taken of James looking at one of his paintings, “On the Threshold of Freedom”.

The painting looks at 3 major points, firstly people’s obsession with concealed and deep meanings, secondly the gestalt between the man and the book and thirdly our beliefs about reflections.

When people look upon a work of art, they want to be able to delve into the artists mind and find hidden meanings and messages that they feel the artist has left for them. There is the belief that all works of art must have a deep or hidden meaning to be perceived as art. There is a gestalt between the man and the book, as the book is perfectly reflected in the mirror whereas the man just appears the same. Due to the way in which the mind works, it is impossible for the viewer to see both of these at the same time. If both were reflected or not reflected, the mind would be able to comprehend this. This also makes the viewer question the perceptions within the painting, which is the real view? The man or the book? Lastly the painting looks at our beliefs about reflections. There are two views on this, one where people believe that they can see a true version of ourselves and the second, where the belief is that a mirror can never give a true reflection. Within Lacan’s article, he explains that during infancy, a child struggles to understand that the reflection they see is their own as it appears backwards.

The Two Fridas- Frida Kahlo


The two Fridas were painted in 1939, which was the year she was divorced from her husband, Diego Rivera.

The image depicts two versions of herself, one before marriage when she dressed in modern European dresses and the second during/after her marriage when she was encouraged by her husband to embrace her Mexican roots. With the hearts laid bare, she is showing her emotional suffering at the loss of her love, this is evident in the right Frida, as she is holding a small portrait of Diego. The positions they are both seated in mirror each other and it is as though the younger Frida is looking at her future reflection whereas the older Frida is looking at her past reflection. Both versions of Frida also show how she has been shaped by the environment around her and how, in different circumstances, she has conformed to the desires of others and social expectations.

Task 2

Corsodyl Advert


The above advert was created in 2013 and shows a woman applying makeup in the mirror when she notices blood coming from her eye. The advert plays on our fears and worst imaginations. Most people feel that these fears go unnoticed until we come face to face with our reflection. This echoes Lacan’s idea that our reflections present themselves as dreams or hallucinations and are only the realities of our minds. As the viewer cannot see the womans face, they are unable to confirm whether the situation is real or not. The image also is quite startling and makes the viewer look twice as seems very real.

Blush Lingerie Advert



The above advert was created in 2008 by Blush lingerie. The company is infamous for its adverts which are normally quite risque and naughty. In the advert, the reflection of the woman shows what is not normally seen which in turn may the viewer look twice as they may think that they have just imagined it. This echoes Lacan’s idea that reflections appear as dreams or are imagined as we know that if this was a normal reflection the woman would be fully clothed. The reflection is also looking straight at the viewer whereas the fully clothed woman is not, this could give the viewer the feeling that they had been caught in the act of looking.














About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
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