Jerzy Durczak


Almost 400 years ago, a young Italian artist named Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (though he’s better known simply as Parmigianino) painted a self-portrait of himself, using a convex mirror as a guide. The charmingly distorted painting now hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In 1975 the post-modern poet John Ashbery wrote a book of poetry that shared its title with Parmigianino’s painting: Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Ashbery’s book won Pulitzer Prize.

The glass chose to reflect only what he saw / Which was enough for his purpose.

This is not a convex mirror, but Ashbery’s line from the titular poem is perfectly appropriate. What the glass reflects here is exactly enough for the photographer’s purpose. Parmigianino would approve, I think, and so would Ashbery. From the same poem:

The soul establishes itself. / But how far can it swim out from the eyes / And still return safely to its nest?

As far as necessary. As far as possible. As far as it desires. Safety is an illusion. As far as ever it can.

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