04 November 2012
Please let me know which is your favorite and why.
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:
Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog.