The art of selling mirrors online

Reflecting on René Magritte and the surrealist dreamscapes captured in photos of mirrors

Leonardo DiVinci’s Mona Lisa has captivated the world with her infamous gaze. Where so many paintings feature subjects that look off into the distance at something the viewer can’t see, Mona Lisa is looking at you, staring through time and space, observing you as much as you are observing her. Usually, people who look out of portraits are nobility, seemingly watching over their subjects. But the humble Mona Lisa, with her modest clothes and lack of jewelry, is an average woman who has been breaking the fourth wall for over 500 years.

Perhaps what draws us in is how disorienting it can be when the attention shifts directly toward us, forcing us to go from passive observers to active participants. We go from looking into a scene to that scene looking back at us. It’s no longer a moment that happened in the past, but a moment that is happening over and over again to everyone who encounters the artwork.

This is how I feel when I see people trying to sell mirrors online. They are average people selling average mirrors. It’s not us, but it could be us — and the fact that these are anonymous sellers makes it easier for us to see ourselves within them.

So much about their lives is revealed through what is reflected. Messy rooms are a constellation of objects that build a picture of the life of the seller.

Craigslist Mirrors

Moving boxes give us a glimpse into someone transitioning in life. Are they moving to a new place? Or making room in their current home? Out with the old. In with the new.

Craigslist Mirrors

They’re scenes as unique as snowflakes, yet they are still relatable. This could be you. This could be your mirror, just send a message with your best offer.

Craigslist Mirrors

Though the moments captured are mundane, a mirror in a photo bends reality, shifting perspectives that pull you in with optical illusions. The style and technique in which these photos are taken create unexpected scenes.

It takes you out of your body, because mirrors are supposed to reflect what is true, but the truths in these photographs are distorted. Suddenly, you’re not you, you are a disembodied arm holding a camera.

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Your legs are no longer your legs — they are the legs of some unknown person standing in a place you’ve never been.

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You’re a stack of chairs.

Craigslist Mirrors

You’re a different person entirely.

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You’re an iPhone floating in the abyss.

Craigslist Mirrors

You are trapped in the Droste Effect.

Craigslist Mirrors

The scenes these mirrors reflect are oftentimes more interesting than the mirrors themselves, creating dreamscapes that remind me a lot of the work by Surrealist painter, René Magritte. Most people recognize Magritte’s most famous work The Son of Man, where a man’s face is obscured by an apple.

The Son of Man, 1964 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

Many of Magritte’s surrealist paintings play with “window painting” and “painting within a painting” where he create a scene within a scene using windows, canvases and of course, mirrors. The juxtaposing scenes are meant to challenge the viewer’s expectations, just as many of these photos of mirrors play tricks with our eyes.

The Empty Picture Frame, 1934 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

Magritte uses this technique to continue moments that are usually cut off, giving the observer the ability to see around corners and through walls.

The Human Condition II, 1935 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

We not only see what’s in front of us, but also what’s around us.

But sometimes, Magritte doesn’t show us what we expect. In Not to Be Reproduced, we expect to see a person’s reflection, but instead it’s someone’s back.

Not to Be Reproduced, 1937 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

Disjointed scenes give us the impression of contrasting surroundings. We are both indoors and outdoors simultaneously. Magritte often creates this sensation using a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.

The Telescope, 1963 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

Magritte has a way of using reflections to show the many sides of a subject. We all have multitudes — our many angles are reflected in mirrors.

Le Lieu Commun, 1964 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

Sometimes, absurdity is used to obscure the subject from our view.

The Invention of Life, 1928 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

There are a lot of similarities between Magritte’s work and photos of mirrors being sold online. Reality is sometimes surreal, shifting perspectives can be unsettling but what you are seeing is what is there. And if we walk away from the experience having learned one thing, let it be this:

The False Mirror, 1928 by Rene Magritte and Craigslist Mirrors

Your eyes are a false mirror.