Our words ‘miracle’ and ‘mirror’ share etymological roots relating to acts of looking, wondering, ad-miring.
Unlike miracles, mirror images are not attributed to divine agency. They can be explained with natural laws that we have established through observation.
Although it can be explained, there is still sometimes something miraculous about my body’s image being detached from my body and doubling into reflections, endlessly and untouchably, all on its own.
Reflective surfaces are a common obstacle in filmmaking; a mirror showing the presence of the recording apparatus can appear as a clumsy puncturing of the fourth wall. Part of the cinematographer’s job is to ensure that shadows and reflections of themselves do not enter the shot. Filmmakers need to be present in order to make the film, but part of making the film is orchestrating their absence from it.
What would a film look like if it had no filmmaker?
In the Middle Ages, images that were believed to have come into being without any human invention or intention were called acheiropoieta (literally ‘made without hands’). Almost always evident as pictures of Christ, these acheiropoieta are understood as direct manifestations of the immaterial; divinity made present without human mediation. Miracles.
Let’s consider film images as mechanical acheiropoieta. In Soviet avant-garde cinema, the ‘kino-eye’ was proclaimed (by Dziga Vertov, Yelizaveta Svilova and others) as a triumph over the human eye. Rather than simply documenting reality as it appears to us, the camera brought forth non-human forms of perception. The lens offered escape from anthropocentric subjectivity; it created independent, machinic points of view with new organisations of space and time.
Meanwhile, in describing the alienation of workers from their work, Marx critiques the ways in which commodities erase the human labour that has gone into them. When it appears as an exchangeable unit on the market, the commodity carries no legible history of the time/ effort/ exploitation that has brought it there. It seems to have manifested miraculously, like an immaterial idea made physically present all on its own, without human hands.
The screen image of a can of Coca-Cola Light: weightless, generic, silvery, spinning, doubling. Pure promise. Untouched and untouchable.
The light soft drink’s sugar-free sweetness is built, at a molecular level, as an engineered semblance. The CGI animation is also brought into being as a detached likeness; the digital image components are gradually built up, through trial and error, from bits of information. The most challenging parts for the builder of this image are the reflections, where the smooth, shiny object projects its image into the surface of its doubled self.
Imagine an image that exists only when it is not seen.
Standing between two mirrors reflecting their reflections into each other, humans obscure the view of infinite duplication that extends into their surface-depths. When I remove my body from the image, its continuity is no longer obstructed – but then I am no longer there to witness it. To see into the image of real-time reflexive infinity is to participate in it, and thereby prevent access to it.
Observation puts an end to endlessness.