The SVA Picture Collection’s mirrors folder only has around 40 images, but the diversity of images -- ranging from the 1930s to the 2000s -- allows for a very fruitful peruse. Mirrors occupy an important place within, in particular, Western fairytales, as well as the cinematic tradition. Fairytales and other fantasy fiction will often feature magical mirrors (think: Snow White, Harry Potter) that serve as points of (visual) access to other worlds or enchanted sources of knowledge. In the Greek myth, Narcissus perishes after an encounter with his reflection leads him to fall in love with it. In films, depending on the genre’s conventions, mirrors serve as signifiers for vanity or distortion, references to doubling, and surfaces upon which recognition and misrecognition are enacted. In horror films, characters often face the most monstrous aspects of themselves (and the plotline) in the mirror. In romantic comedies, characters give themselves pep talks in their bathroom mirrors. In dramas, characters clutch the sides of their sink and peer at themselves in some peculiar and desperate attempt at self-commiseration. The mirrors folder offers several visual insights into the ways in which humans interact with - and grapple with, and mythologize - their own reflected image.

Beauty salon with mirrored walls and ceilings, and marble floors.
Realites October 1972
A woman poses in a mirror as she is measured by a male tailor, standing behind her. The mirror is elaborately engraved.
A woman in a modest blue sparkly dress and crystal jewelry stands facing away from an enormous gold gilded mirror. In the background of the mirror a large ornate chandelier is visible.
A young girl in the Victorian era rests her face in her palm as she looks at herself in a small wooden mirror that sits on a table.
from Victorian Life in Photographs (1974)
A woman in a long dark dress with a white sash is reflected triply in a set of mirrors.
Vogue Vol. 86, No. 9, November 1, 1935

A blonde woman looks away from the mirror that reflects her. The mirror has an ornately carved wooden frame and the woman's arms are crossed.
A standalone oval mirror with a wooden frame sits on a dressing table with a vase of roses and baby's breath, a heart-shaped glass ashtray and a glass box.
Several differently shaped mirrors with art deco detailing hang on a wall in a modest living room.
In this triptych, three women towel themselves off before three small gold-rimmed oval mirrors.
"Stevens" towel ad
A woman gives her reflection a sidelong glance in a handheld silver mirror.
1939
A man wearing a red T-shirt looks upon his reflection which is reflected multiply in a grid.
An ornately framed mirror hags on a wall in an upper-class home.