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?
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