Photography: The Shadow as Center Stage

04 November 2012

Lens:

3. Shadow on Sidewalk, iPhone 4s, August 2012;

1. Shadow on Sidewalk, iPhone 4s, August 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

2. Grasses and Shadow, iPhone 4s, September 2012;

2. Shadow on Grasses, iPhone 4s, September 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

3. Shadow on Sidewalk II, iPhone 4s, September 2012;

3. Shadow on Sidewalk II, iPhone 4s, September 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

4. Shadows on Sidewalk, iPhone 4s, October 2012;

4. Shadows on Sidewalk, iPhone 4s, October 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

5. Shadows on Window, iPhone 4s, October 2012;

5. Shadows on Window, iPhone 4s, October 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Please let me know which is your favorite and why.

Pens:

Photography is interdependent upon a number of factors: chief among them is light or the absence of it. An image is only as good as the eye of its creator, but the lighting can make or break its mood, tone, flare, flavor, patterns, ambience, and so much more. The negative and positive spaces that are signaled by light and dark are buoyed or sink with shadows as key compositional techniques.

Throughout art history little or no illumination has been used as an ingredient to draw the viewer into a work. Some historians have hypothesized that art may have begun as the result of tracing one’s own shadow.

In 1839 the photograph was introduced simultaneously in England (William Henry Fox Talbot) and France (Lois Jacques Mande Daguerre). Englishman Talbot expressed his reaction to his discovery of stilling time as “the most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our ‘natural magic.’ and may be fixed for ever in the position which it seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy.”

The shadow gives a photograph various qualities that can have punch and zest. Or silent as a bit player. But it also can bring an aesthetic quality that lifts mood and gives the narrative a duality with contrast and tonal play. Mystery and sadness can be given reality too.

Since lighting is a fundamental element of the photographic success, the effects of day and night can be day and night. The subject can be illuminated by the supporting player (its shadow) and made the hero. But often the shadow is not cast as the lead, but still adds substance to the image.

One of the fascinating outcomes of shadow as part of the story is the seen and the unseen. What cannot be defined is left to the imagination, unless the subject of the cast away is visible. Shadows can be crystal clear, but are more often ethereal and suggestive–qualities that are change agents.

I am inclined to convert these (often) intense and sinewy narratives into black and white. While color is an apt choice, monochrome gives a shadow greater contrast and precision against the setting.

Here are some examples of well-known photographers’ use of shadow as storyteller:

Viaduct ,125th Street, New York, Paul Strand, 1916

Viaduct, 125th Street, New York, Paul Strand, 1916

Dune, Oceano, California, Ansel Adams, 1963

Shadows, Lukas Vasilikos, 2010

Shadows, Lukas Vasilikos, 2010

Shadow Photography by Alexey-Bednij

Shadow Photography by Alexey  Bednij, 2012

Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog.

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This entry was posted in Black-and-White Photography, Human Nature, Photography, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Photography: The Shadow as Center Stage

  1. My fave is no 4. Such strong patterns.

  2. marialla says:

    THANK YOU – I LIKE NUMBER 4 THE BEST!!!

  3. That first one looks just like the profile of a Saint Bernard!
    Really interesting set of shots, Sally!

  4. And speaking of abstractions….
    Thanks for that great statement by William Henry Fox Talbot, which I’ve never encountered till now. Thanks also for that great photograph by Alexey Bednij, whom I’ve never head of, and who did such a great job of catching the birds when they were so evenly distributed. I do know the 125th St. viaduct in New York, have driven beneath it and ridden the subway over it, but have never photographed it with or without shadows.

    All in all, an excellent post on the seen and the unseen.

  5. Shadows create drama, mystery and excitement. These images are all that and more. I was at the gym today and caught my leg shadow and that of the window. I didn’t take a shot though. That could have been cool. Have a great week.

  6. Northern Narratives says:

    I really like the first photo. It reminds me of the games we used to play with shadows when we were kids.

  7. Nico says:

    Numbers 1 @ 2. Mysterious!

  8. EvaUhu says:

    I like the second to last best, the sidewalk. It has a captivating quality because it is not immediately recognizable what you are confronted with. Plus the leading lines and the high contrast give it a graphic, even abstract air. The last one is catching too, for it’s slightly dreamy air.

  9. The second pic is my favorite! I love the way the texture pierces through the shadow. And I love the contrast. I just got a 1970s film camera so I love reading about the history of photography. How in the world did someone come up with that idea. Brilliant. Great photographs and post! 🙂

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