Everyone knows Craigslist is rife with the weird and the wild, but since 2013, Brooklyn-based artist Eric Oglander has been combing the online marketplace for one quotidian object: the mirror. Portals to a world beyond the picture frame, mirrors introduce subtle, unexpected elements to their listings’ accompanying photographs that make many of these images oddly compelling. Oglander has been lifting his favorites from the website and sharing them on Tumblr and Instagram, where Craigslist Mirrors has grown into one of those beloved internet projects that simply exists with no real agenda. Of the thousands Oglander has amassed, 70 from the first two years of his mirror scouting have been memorialized in Mirrors, a new photo book from TBW Books.
On the project’s social media accounts, a sense of humor seeps through the feeds: selfies abound, from the unavoidable to inadvertent family portraits to the truly mysterious; animal photos are ubiquitous, as if deliberately including your pet in a listing would make someone in the mirror market more compelled to make an offer. But in Mirrors, Oglander has largely selected quieter scenes that celebrate the poetic aesthetics of Craigslist images likely the result of quick smartphone snapping sessions — these images, after all, are not made to last forever. (He does include one very excellent, hypnotic image of a labrador checking itself out.) Mirrors is very much a book of photography that explores dimensionality, light, reflection, and notions of place — even if the photographers involved likely have no idea that these pictures endure past their listings’ expiration dates and are now collected in an art book.
“It’s not necessarily mirrors in particular that I find captivating. I’m more interested in the inadvertent beauty found in these photographs,” Oglander told Hyperallergic. “They start off as a means to an end, as a tool for selling an object, and occasionally result in a compelling image. They have an innocence that a lot of intentionally made, ‘beautiful’ works of art struggle to possess. They are without pretension.”
Printed on white pages reminiscent of Craigslist’s minimal design, the mostly low-resolution photos are displaced from their posts, isolated from any captions. There are no details of dimensions, material, price, brand, shape; no seller urging, “NEW ACT FAST”; no one advocating a “great vintage piece,” but “cash only!!!” There is no sense of the images’ origins: Oglander does not offer information on the seller or the city in which the mirrors resided — although a playful index at the back lists their gibberish file names (a sample: “_me1hfd15BU1slcc4qol_500.jpg”).
Yet they reveal suggestive aspects of private interiors, architectures, and landscapes that offer a sense of specific locations — or at least of their character. Fudge-colored wall-to-wall carpeting, floral upholstered couches, a cluttered basement, and an array of garages bring to mind suburbia. You can see mountains set against a lake in one image; in another, a desert scene evokes the Southwest. One circular mirror against a white cinderblock wall reflects a staircase, the scene reminiscent of a high school’s hallways, dark and empty after the bell has rung.
At times you do wonder if the sellers did have some intention to beautify their images, like the person who chose to use a vase of vibrant flowers to demonstrate scale (versus a seller who aligned the base of a mirror with a broom), or the person who propped a mirror that would be at home in Versailles on a tree trunk to reflect an idyllic landscape. As you flip through Mirrors, it’s not really the mirrors at which you’ll find yourself looking, but at their reflections and their surroundings. That’s probably why, as alluring and mystifying as they are, these images have never tempted Oglander, who has yet to buy a mirror off Craigslist himself.