A Silhouette can be described as an “image of a person, animal, object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject… typically presented on a light background … or none at all.” I’ve always found them fascinating to look at even though, and I’ve shared some of these in another Silhouette post, I rarely think of using the technique when I take pictures. I’m not sure why, but I will pay more attention. How about you? Do you look for silhouette moments?
The word has an interesting history and is taken from the last name of Étienne de Silhouette. Étienne was a Minister of Finance in France in the 18th century. Because of an economic downturn during that period, he had to impose severe taxes on the wealthy, people looked for cheap ways to do things and his name was co-opted to represent anything made quickly and cheaply. To make sense of the term, we can look to the fact that cut paper silhouettes were the first way of capturing figures in early photographic portraits and forms.
“Rocks were not simply decorative silhouettes. They were part of the earth’s bones, with an anatomy of their own, caused by some remote seismic upheaval.” Kenneth Clark
There is also evidence that silhouettes were used in Ancient Egypt and Greece to create art forms; mainly in creating portraits of the human shadow… and perhaps shadows in nature. Over the years, they continued to gain popularity in traditional portraiture, Art illustrations, early theater and Movies, graphic design, sports shooting, and photography; they remain a popular technique in photography. The term is often used in the fashion Industry to express the form and fit of a designer’s vision.
As I sifted through my photo collections to find images that might fit this challenge, I was reminded of a cameo brooch my mom had when I was little. It was a black silhouette portrait of a woman from the chest up set against a pink background. They were very popular at one time and probably served as my earliest understanding of what a silhouette looked like. Another was catching a glimpse of my shadow at dusk and, of course, cutting those paper dolls and forms in kindergarten. Do you remember your first memory of a silhouette? Or the first time you caught a glimpse of your shadow in the setting sun?
“Vehement silhouettes of Manhattan – that vertical city with unimaginable diamonds.” Le Corbusier
I’ve enjoyed revisiting this popular technique and now that I’ve learned a bit more about it, I will be more conscientious of capturing photographic moments that exemplify the form. Do you remember your earliest memory of creating paper silhouettes or seeing them in your home? Our memories are reservoirs of great stories and experiences, and photography has a way of pulling them up for us to look at. The photos above and here need no explanation. They were mostly shot at dusk; I believe it’s probably the best time for silhouette photos. Do you have a favorite? Do share.
This post was inspired by a Daily Post Prompt: Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette This week, share a photo with a silhouette. Revisit Wenjie Zhang’s post on the quality of light for quick tips on backlight, or dive into silhouette tutorials by Digital Photography School and PetaPixel for more guidance.
Positive Motivation Tip: Take time to refresh your memory of special moments in your life. Take a few photos at dusk and reminisce. Your life is worth reflecting over…
PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All Photos: One collage of Silhouette shots from Wikipedia and the rest from my Personal Collection.