Shadows and silhouettes present us with the world in simple, elegant forms. Bereft of detail, these dark ghosts against incandescent backdrops can be very evocative.
Above, 1 of 73 images from the Shadows and Silhouettes folder in the SVA Library Picture collection. It’s somewhat surprising how much narrative we can suss out of the simple arrangements. With very little detail we can deduce that this is a man and his dog out for an early morning hunt.
Here the decision not to include the actual figure in the image and only represent her shadow adds an unnerving supernatural quality to the image (at least for this viewer). It makes the viewer yearn to know more; who is the shadow connected to? The contrast between the patterns of colors on the wall and the strong darkness of the shadows makes for a very active composition.
Above, the bird’s eye view of these ice skaters and the time of day in which the photo was captured extends their shadows, exaggerating each of their movements. The shadows seem to be dripping off the figures across the white ice canvas as though gravity is working in a horizontal direction.
The use of a camera obscura in the image above is an example of how light can create beautiful forms. The image is distorted and there is a waviness to the man on the horse, however the subject matter is still recognizable. We seem to possess an ability to define things without any detail; contrast between dark and light is usually enough information. The simplicity and un-fussiness of silhouettes is part of their attraction.