What is a mandalagraph?
To describe the type of photographic compositions I create for this website/blog, I have coined the term mandalagraph, combining “mandala”, meaning for my purposes “a graphic pattern divided into four separate sections or bearing multiple projections of an image”, and “graph”, as in “photograph”. Quite simply, a mandalagraph is created by “reflecting” the original rectangular or square photograph along two perpendicular axes. The result is an image of four seamless quadrants expressing “quadrilateral symmetry,” each quadrant a mirror image of the adjacent quadrant. In photo manipulation parlance, this is done by “flipping” the original image along one axis, horizontally or vertically, and then flipping the resulting combined image along the other axis.
A true mandala, in the original sense, is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning circle, and describes “a Hindu or Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe, specifically a circle enclosing a square with a deity on each side that is used chiefly as an aid to meditation.” [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed.] This spiritual aspect of the word appeals to me as much as the compositional: many mandalagraphs evoke a sense of otherworldliness and provoke contemplation or, at best, meditation on the essence of things.
Some personal history.
I can’t remember exactly when I became interested in creating mandalagraphs, but at least as far back as the early 1990s. In those days–pre-digital photography, in my experience–making a mandalagraph involved a lot of laborious steps. I had to find a photo lab that would print reverse (mirror image) as well as straightforward prints of the original image from the negative. By carefully gluing two of each version of the original image (two normal and two reverse prints) into their proper quadrants, a manadalgraph was born. Because of the effort and cost required, I didn’t go to the trouble of assembling many mandalagraphs back then, but I remained intrigued by some results I achieved. To decide what images were “worthy” of this effort, I learned the trick of arranging two mirrors at right angles and placing a candidate print into the third plane at right angles to both mirrors. By looking at this combination just so, I would see the virtual mandalagraph of multiple reflections in the mirror combined with the real image of the original print.
With the advent of digital photography and editing, creating mandalagraphs with a good photo editing program became a relatively easy matter. (I use Lightroom and Photoshop.) In less than a minute I can open a photo in Photoshop after “developing” it in Lightroom and transform it into a mandalagraph. Another mandalagraph permutation of the same photograph takes just a few more clicks. This technical ease of creating mandalagraphs has freed me to focus more on composition and to explore more diverse image subject matter. It can become rather addictive…
Variations on a theme.
For a rectangular or square photograph, after any cropping, there are technically eight possible mandalagraph permutations. Most photographic images, I would guess, are taken with the film or sensor more or less perpendicular to the ground and thus have a natural up and down orientation–“vertical plane” images with a real or implicit horizon. In creating my mandalagraphs with such images, I rarely consider any variation/permutation that does not include the original photograph–whether cropped or not–in its correct orientation. This eliminates four of the eight possible permutations and, for me, gives the resulting mandalagraph at least some grounding in “reality”. Examples are mandalagraphs fashioned from architectural or landscape forms where a horizon is explicitly or implicitly part of the image. (The exceptions to this approach are when I have created the occasional “composite” image, combining a mandalagraph with either another mandalagraph or a simpler bilateral “mirror” image.)
However, photographs taken looking down (on a leaf or a patch of ground, for example) or up (as into a tree or sky) have virtually no such orientation restrictions: you can rotate and crop such “horizontal plane” images almost any way you want without compromising its “naturalness”. I find that such “horizontal plane” images offer more freedom in choosing what portion of the image to transform into a mandalagraph than with vertical plane images. Good examples of these are mandalagraphs generated from photographs of flowers or plant forms.
What is it about mandalagraphs…
My personal fascination for “mandalagraphic” images has something to do with the effect of such precise symmetries that, for the most part, are “unnatural” and, in many cases, fanciful, fantastic, and even confounding. Images of textures in nature, like flowers and leaves, become even more visually wondrous. And I’ve noticed that blemishes so common in real life can become visually interesting and even beautiful when perfectly mirrored in a mandalagraph. Images of architectural or landscape elements are transformed into topsy turvy realms or trompe l’oeil that play off how our eyes and brains expect to see and interpret certain forms. The bilateral symmetries created by mandalagraphs frequently make patterns that evoke human-like or animal-like faces and forms, forms to which, it seems, our brains are naturally attuned. This might explain why some mandalagraphs can make you uneasy, as unnatural creatures emerge from some pedestrian image or are lurking there subliminally.
In any case, it’s my hope that you’ll enjoy some if not all of the mandalagraphs on this site and those to come, whether you–or I–understand why.
Harry Hull III
© Harry Hull III and Mandalagraphs.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and other material on this blog/website without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harry Hull III and Mandalagraphs.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.