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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Twenty Six : Using reflections to transform reality > Reflection in water (1): Surreall Windmill, Bruges, Belgium, 2005
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Reflection in water (1): Surreall Windmill, Bruges, Belgium, 2005

Over the course of a weeklong canal barge trip through Belgium and The Netherlands, I had many opportunities to photograph reflections in water. In this, the first in a series of five reflected images, I offer a new look at an old windmill. The reflected waters of a clear blue morning sky provide the backdrop, while the motion in the water, created by our moving barge, stretches and bends the windmill until it becomes whimsically surreal. It stimulates the imagination, and calls out for attention.

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Phil Douglis01-Jul-2007 19:17
Thanks, Ceci, for the praise. I owe a bit to Dali as you say -- this image certainly shows how shooting into a moving, rippling reflection can surrealistically distort the image and express an idea. In this case, the idea approaches the absurd, and produces a scene right out of Don Quixote.
Guest 01-Jul-2007 04:37
This is wonderful, comedic, and so surreal that it could have issued from Salvador Dali's paintbrush, besides suggesting the most modern of art. Its placement within the frame is gorgeous, the colors are strong and bold, and the water's movement has given you an abstraction that is non pareille -- without compare.
Phil Douglis17-Feb-2006 23:03
I am glad you like this image, Ramma. I love to bend the rules. They are only a starting point for me.
Ramma 05-Feb-2006 17:17
Beautiful distortion. You bend the rules beautifully
Phil Douglis31-Jul-2005 20:13
You make an important point here, Likyin. I did not like it in its original orientation either -- it just looked like a reflection of a windmill. By disorienting it, I am making an illusion of an illusion. I am taking it one more step away from reality, one more step towards the incongruous. When we see a movie, we suspend our sense of belief. On one level we know were are watching an illusion, but on another level we can lose ourselves in it. That's what we are doing here -- suspending our belief for a moment and losing ourselves in the pure fantasy of a twice abstracted image. Forget about what it "really" is, and just enjoy it for what you see.
Guest 31-Jul-2005 07:17
I flipped it again, and, to my surprise, it looks really quite different and less touching. Maybe it is the chemistry with "order"...

Well, windmill or not, I believe it doesn't matter to me. Maybe it's something holding four hands of net catching fish ... it is not "wow the windmill could be distorted like this!" that attracts me. I simply enjoy the graceful lines and color (with a certain order, maybe...). If itself is an illusion, why do we care what "it really is"? But, if we don't care, what is the context and "order" coming from?
Phil Douglis23-Jul-2005 18:50
Thank you, Sonia, for this comment and for your questions. I will do my best to answer them for you. You asked me if most reflected images are expressive? As you know, my definition of expression is when abstraction, incongruity, and human values combine to stimulate the imaginations of our viewers and trigger ideas and thoughts in their minds. I don't think that all reflected images are abstract, incongruous, or reflect human values enough to make this happen. You say here that "reflections of real objects usually give abstraction and they link reality to fantasy and hence give incongruity and human value." I only wish this were always the case. But it is not. Most reflected images I see are simply very predictable upside down mirror images. In order for them to be effective as expression, the degree of abstraction, incongruity, and the humane connection, must be thought provoking. They must go beyond just superficially reflecting something. They must use the reflection to alter or change reality in ways that truly affect the human imagination. And that is what I've tried to do with all five of the examples in this series.

You also asked me if this picture would be an expressive image if the distorted object was something other than a windmill? It is not the subject of this picture that makes it expressive, Sonia. It how we choose to interpret the subject that makes it expressive. This particular windmill is abstracted and made incongruous by the ripples in the water. I photographed those ripples from a particular position and at a particular moment which forever alters the nature of this windmill. But without those ripples, we would just have an upside down windmill. If this were a human form, or a tree or a house, it might be just as expressive, only it would take an entirely different form. What makes this image of a windmill so expressive is what is happenings to its sails. They become surreal rivers of red and white that flow into a wavering structure that looks as if it is about to explode. This image is more than just a surreally distorted reflection. It is a whimsical expression of fantasy that presents a windmill in way we may have never seen before. These very same rippled waters could just as well transform any another subject into a completely different but equally expressive image. It just would no longer be a windmill. It would becme another image altogether. I hope this will be useful to you, Sonia, in understanding the ideas I am demonstrating here.
Guest 23-Jul-2005 05:01
Thanks Phil, for showing different examples of reflections that would make a picture expressive. I have a question however : reflections of real objects usually give abstraction and they link reality to fantasy and hence give incongruity and human value. So basically most reflective images are expressive. Would you say so? I have read "Reflection in water" (1) through (5) and I can understand why and how you make them expressive, except this one. I can only understand this as a surreal distorted reflection. And it takes me back to that question again - would you think that it is an expressive image if the distorted object was something other than the windmill?
Phil Douglis07-Jul-2005 00:45
Sorry about that fall from the bike. I had an accident not far from this scene as well. Only an hour before I took this image I tried to walk through a door in the ancient gate guarding the city. The door was built for people five feet tall. I stand six feet tall. I had a big red mark on my forehead for days! I was thinking of pictures and not looking at where I was going. A common problem with photographers. Thanks for the comment -- the ripple was just right. Too much, no windmill. Too little, a descriptive image. Just right -- an abstracted picture that expresses ideas.
Sean McHugh06-Jul-2005 23:16
I remember this very windmill from my visit to Bruges. If I recall, I accidentally slipped all the way down this hill on the side of my bike :) You sure seem to have had nice weather and a clear blue sky for this shot to work so well. I like how it only contains red, green, and blue primaries (well, for light at least). Just the right amount of ripple in the water can still make out the texture and windmill blades, yet the photo is still sufficiently abstract.
Phil Douglis06-Jul-2005 05:34
I think you understand now, Kal, what I mean by anchoring, texturing, and orienting a reflection to make it work. Sometimes the image must be flipped, as it is here. Other times, as in , it is not flipped, but remains inverted. An anchor is used when stabilization is useful. This image has an anchor -- the touch of green on the bottom. It suggests the earth. I hope this answers all of the questions you ask here about photographing reflections. If anything remains unclear (pun intended) let me know.
Phil Douglis06-Jul-2005 05:25
Yes, this is flipped so as not to disorient the viewer. The texture in the water is what makes it work. It there was no distortion here, it would just be a reflection of a windmill. End of story.
Kal Khogali06-Jul-2005 05:04
Just read your comments on my image again and you refer to texture in the water as a key element if ther is no I understand. Is this flipped?
Kal Khogali06-Jul-2005 04:51
Absolutely stunning. It is almost photoshopped in it's appearance. Is this flipped vertically to allow the viewer a less disorientating feeling? I remember your comment about reflections and the importance of including an anchor point that is non-refelcted, the image is here you have not done that here, and this image still works, I am persuming because it is flipped. Is it because it is flipped? I have the original of my image here and I have a flipped version which I posted, which I liked, but then removed (I will post again tonight). Do you think this would work better and if so why? Is the reflection sufficient incongruity, and therefore an upside down "original" is just going too far for the viewers mind to cope?
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