Through the looking glass

I try not to step inside the powder room of my studio. There are too many mirrors, and mirrors ask uncomfortable questions.


What do you see when you look at yourself?

The curve of your cheek. An errant lock of hair. Wrinkles, frown lines, laugh lines, and worry lines of a life live dreaming of more, worry lines in anticipation of a life to be lived in a grey shaded world.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

The drape of a sari, adjusted to cover an exposed temple. A hat, picked up at the last moment to augment the outfit, now being re-thought. The pleats of a kimono, falling straight and starched and proper… All word and adorned to look your best, for one fleeting instant that is to be captured for posterity.

What do you see in yourself through a looking glass?

An image of who you are – no, that’s not quite it. An image of who you think you are, perhaps.

In the mirror of a powder room, you see – try to be- a fantasy of how you would want to be recorded, remembered forever.


There are shadows in the mirror’s image, light falling and flattering and deceiving the eye. There is a feeling of oblivion from the world that you are in your own company. You are free to laugh, cry, pose, pucker up, weep, rant, and pledge to kill yourself.

There are ghosts in the reflection, standing over your shoulder, Guardians, haunters, hangers-on, whatever- they stand in your reflection and mock you, tease you, judge you, remind you of the secrets that exist deep and buried inside of you.

You are not alone in the mirror – there is you, your life, your lies, your secrets, your dreams, your ghosts, your baggage and your desires – remember me, remember me when I’m gone, I’ve lived and breathed and grown and died.

You can either see what you want to see or what only you know and no one else does.


“Madam, please. Turn a little, madam, side profile, little more to the left, little bit, more yes yes enough madam, stay yes stay like that that. Thank you.”

I see the hesitancy still, the nervousness as they clutch at their clothes and subtly try to adjust it, still contemplating whether to go with the hat. The eyes wander away from the black gaping eye of the camera, to a memory clad in a dress and a slanted hat, or to a child restless in his grandfather’s lap.

They still haven’t left their mirror selves behind.

“OK madam, when I say ready.”

I disappear under the black cloth, and see an inversion of the subject – under the cloth, they all become subjects –

“Ready… one… two…”

– Still they twitch, struggling to compose themselves –

“… Three!”

– A burst of light and a sharp intake of breath.

There it went, the one moment spent pruning and preening for, and the heavy silver plate with its assorted chemicals, so carefully protected from the light for now, carries images of them that will serve as the markers for their lives, indelible – for a few years at least.


Call me an artist, a magician, a photographer, whatever. All I see is past their blank eyes and bland pose, these living breathing people captured in a moment where they posed, as themselves, exposed and recorded for their worlds to hang on a wall, or compress in the pages of an album, to be revered, lamented or forgotten.

But me? I would call myself phobic – of mirrors, images and photographs.

I could never dream of looking at myself, even through a lens or a glass. Who knows what I would see?

Harshita Yalamarthy