Reflexions

Why 'Reflexions'?

Sylvia herself referred to this project using that word, but I never asked her how she proposed to spell it. These are apparently double-images masquerading as 'reflections', but, although at first glance the two halves may seem to be mirror images of each other (that is, the lower half being identical to the top half, but flipped over top to bottom about a horizontal centre line), they are not really so – instead the bottom half is actually rotated through 180 degrees

Quite what this does to an image and how/why it is significantly different from a true 'reflection' was not quite clear to Sylvia, but she could see that it was different and furthermore that the final image becomes something more than the sum of its parts in a way that was new and interesting to her. She always enjoyed the playfully simple applications of basic photography which David Hockney has practised from time to time and she really loved the thought that the trivial idea of ordering 'a second set' of prints from the processor provided this option
[These were the days long before we all had digital cameras.]

At all events the making of colourful and textured images in different forms was always a natural reflex for Sylvia. Even when using a camera she never let the usual maze of theories and technical know-how pin her down or hamper her freedom to experiment – the force of her creative vision would compel the machine to come up with the original images she was after anyway – so 'Reflexions' it is!

About the project

This complete exhibition consists of 210 photographic double-images (only about 30% are currently here on site) made by Sylvia Cosh mostly during the 1990s. Many were made in her garden in Surrey, south of London, and others in mid-Wales (where The Old Chapel is), but many others, especially the 'Architectural' set, were snatched during her many working and holiday journeys around this country and Europe. Places you may recognise include Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, Venice, Verona, Paris, Bruges, Prague, Villach, Lisbon, Frankfurt, Munich, Dresden, Marbella, Rhonda, Cordoba, Granada … and all points between, since Sylvia loved to photograph from moving vehicles

As soon as Sylvia 'discovered' this double-image option, she began to take photographs specifically with this in mind and quickly saw that the development possibilities were endless. Part of her hope when becoming involved in The Old Chapel project was that she might take avantage of the space, time and computer technology we were hoping to have in place there and learn to experiment in her own way in all the various kinds of image manipulation which are possible only in that domain. As it was, we had only just moved in when her cancer was first diagnosed

Preparing this gallery

Hands-off!: Although, as her students will testify, Sylvia was extremely free and generous with her ideas, she did not enjoy seeing them taken up and developed by others before she had had a proper chance to do so herself. In consenting to the present exhibition, she made it clear that, so long as she were around, she would not be proposing to exhibit this material at all at the present stage of development. In the circumstances, it is my main task to let it speak for itself as it is without interference

Image orientation: Some of the prints are not placed in their most obvious orientation – horizontal subjects are occasionally put on their sides and, even when kept horizontal, it may be the topmost one which appears upside-down. Almost always the prints were placed simply, that is, edge to edge, in perfect register and along true horizontal/vertical alignment. Very occasionally one image has been shifted sideways in relation to the other, so as to bring some feature, such as a flower stem, into direct alignment

Shape: Sylvia chose not to cut or otherwise manipulate the shapes of the standard 4" x 6" photographic prints, but always used the whole of a pair of identical prints in each instance

Unavoidable choices: In a few cases, where Sylvia herself had not fixed the prints in position at all, I had the choice of making all the decisions about positioning, orientation or else of just leaving out these subjects

Titles, etc: Sylvia gave no indication that she wanted or expected to give titles any of the individual images of this body of 210 images and it seemed absurd, irrelevant and impossible for me to attempt to do so … so I haven't, except that the image of 'Our' Hill (ref: Landscapes #1), which has been used on this website, was named thus the first day we discovered The Old Chapel. I have, however, invented some 'categories' for convenience

In preparing the images for uploading to the website, however, it was impossible for me not to get involved in at least some of those technological aspects with which Sylvia had had no opportunity to become familiar. Since I cannot be sure what any of her detail decisions might have been, accordingly I have 'done' as little as possible in terms of digital image manipulation. I have, for instance, avoided almost all 'normal' adjustment to brightness, contrast, hue, colour balance, etc, and have settled for nothing more than some slight 'sharpening' of most raw images. This is a routine procedure after scanning in prints on a flatbed scanner and has nothing to do with the 'correction' of calculated out-of-focusness and/or motion blur with which Sylvia loved playing so much.

The more I have worked with these images, the more I want to thank Sylvia again for making them.

James Walters

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