Issue 157 | Editor's Letter
E d i t o r ’ s L e t t e r
An iconic Caravaggio painting (see opposite) acted as our guiding light, all contrasted and illumined, for this, The Reflections Issue. As such, it shouldn’t take too much imagination to understand how this theme—Reflections—originally intended to showcase refractive photography, and therein refractive ego, as well as considerations of the past—morphed into an equal parts consideration of narcissism. After all, we’re living in an age of extremism around anything and everything, often attributed to distorted and/or inflated valuations of self worth. Sometimes, this means one too many selfies on the feed, too many fillers in the face; other times, it sees the decimation of ecosystems to service our need for speed; and in others yet, narcissism plants the seed for the high-handed dismantling of political systems. Greed, indeed.
On Caravaggio, artist David Hockney has remarked that the Renaissance superstar “invented Hollywood lighting” with his captivating chiaroscuro techniques, as if spotlight illuminating his subjects. Theories range as to how the mysterious Caravaggio accomplished this. More recently, and less frequently cited, is that the artist used a camera obscura-like device to create his lighting conditions; Hockney believes Caravaggio used mirrors. Fitting, then, that the Hollywood-esque spotlight, that dramatic isolation of an essential character, or star, be cultivated by way of apertures and mirror-gazing.
As such, it could be said that Hollywood is laboring through a sort of “mirror stage” at the moment, a process of looking itself in the eye and advancing accordingly. Famed 20th century French philosopher and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan referred to the “mirror stage” in child development—the point at which one confronts their own visage in a mirror—as a twofold phenomenon. The first fold marks a turning point in mental development. The second fold—perhaps more of interest in the context of this issue— signifies the typification of an essential, libidinal relationship with the body image.
And so, Hollywood confronts its oft-infantile obsession with itself, acted out in sexual objectifications of the body and those attached to them. Enter Rose McGowan, one of the activists and voices in the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse controversy, who flipped the mirror onto the disgraced producer with allegations of rape and engined a watershed moment in support of the #metoo movement across social and traditional media (page 128). Co-cover of the issue, Andrew Garfield (page 138), speaks on the responsibilities of artistry in an increasingly narcissistic world. We examine mirrors and their centuries old agency in culture, from Goethe’s Faust, to Madame Bovary and Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, to films like Candyman and Donnie Darko (page 192). Art legends Gilbert & George present a series of psychedelic selfies (page 96). Comedian Violet Benson reflects in a variety of modern confessionals—the backseat of an Uber, a bar, the ATM (Page 84). We consider narcissism across politics, technology, environment, and entertainment in our illustrated essay feature, “Our Movement is a Movement Built on Love” (page 110).
Coincidentally, en route from Rome to Los Angeles’ The Getty this month are three iconic works1 by Caravaggio, which launch a three-year global exhibition initiative by the Eternal City’s Galleria Borghese. In partnership with Fendi, the exhibition is pegged to a new digital platform, The Caravaggio Research Institute, which boasts a comprehensive digital database on the artist for the purpose of students, scientists, scholars, art lovers, and the curious worldwide.
Perhaps the innumerable mysteries that surround Caravaggio will finally be unraveled? Perhaps the artist’s cinematic lighting technique will have finally found its true Hollywood home? Perhaps not. Because no matter the depth of research, no matter how comprehensive a consensus, art remains one of those things wholly subjective to the viewer, much like a mirror. Too much mirror-gazing, though, and you lose sight of what’s actually in front of you: a beautifully mortal, flawed, at times stupid, at times brilliant, descendent of the apes.
Enjoy The Reflections Issue, and keep an eye on the road.