If you spend much time on the water in a kayak or canoe, sooner or later you’re likely to be transfixed by reflections. Sitting so low in a kayak, reflections dominate your view of calm water from even quite close to where you sit. It’s easier to see beneath the surface by looking straight down but in the wider view, without polarized sunglasses, then reflections rule. All that lies beneath the silvered surface is rendered largely invisible.
|Freeways cross over water Seattle
Trees and branches overhanging rivers and canals, create scenes of pleasing symmetry. There is a similar visual tunnel effect between the two images below despite their very different locations, France and Missool, Raja Ampat.
|Reflected plane trees, Kristin Nelson on Canal du Midi France
|Arching nipa palms, Misool Indonesia
Some reflections appear more constructed than others. The bold reflected shapes beneath bridges with pillars arches and girders, quiver and gently distort as ripples move between the solid structures. I am left with the impression the solid structure exists beneath me, no matter what the actual depth is, or the real nature of the bottom. (for explanation of the green water color, see my Color of Water blog post)
|Illusion of underwater dock construction, Seattle
Neither can I resist an opportunity to pause in the face of semicircular arches that are sucked into visual tubes by reflection. Do the curves really continue beneath the surface? Is this structure a tube, or is that just an illusion? The real bottom may be flat, and just beneath the surface, but it’s difficult to discard the impression that it follows the shape and depth of a tube.
|Illusion of tubular tunnel, Kanu-Funsport Leipzig Germany
Reflected, concrete girders under a freeway that offer nesting shelter for pigeons and surfaces for clandestine graffiti scribblers create optical illusions of solid structures just beneath the placid surface, but as soon as the surface is disturbed the structures morph into dizzily shifting curlicue patterns.
|Reflected Girders beneath freeway
|Girders reflected in wavelets
|Closer view of reflected girders in wavelets
The eye sees and the mind attempts to make order of the subtly shifting patterns. Only by taking a snapshot of the reflections does it become easier to see why the patterns are so challenging to follow. Even in a snapshot the crisscrossing wave patterns form such twisted reflections that seen out of context they illustrate a puzzling reality. Serving as Rorschach ink blots, the frozen shapes can conjure all manner of things, but rarely reveal the original object that was reflected. When the image is rapidly moving, what chance do you have of making sense of the shifting tree-ring patterns?
|wavelets create tree-ring style patterns
Ripples in motion
|Collage of reflections around anchor
Water does something similar, but the effect is repeated many more times over by the procession of ripples each presenting its own set of constantly changing reflections from its uniquely morphing three-dimensional curves. Small undulations across an otherwise smooth surface cause shifting curvilinear shapes; shapes that are echoed in art including art from Papua.
|Surreal abstract patterns of reflection in water
|Cruising above the sky, Labrador (from the book On Polar Tides)
|Reflection of canoeist, ceramicist Kristin Nelson shattered by ripples