"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Friday, April 16, 2010

Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow

Emma Rutherford's wonderful book Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow tells the story of shadow portraiture...

If you were a child of the eighties, you might remember having a shadow portrait of your tiny head. Whether this practice at schools still endures, I do not know. But, I was always fascinated with silhouettes and shadows generally. The effect on my imagination has always been considerable. So, when my eyes came across Rutherford's beautiful book I was absolutely taken with it. The silhouette, or the shadow, is what I think of when I hear the music of Burial (the UK electronic musician)... a procession of spectral shadows moving past glittering lights. His is the closest audio representation of shadows.

Rutherford's writing in the introduction perfectly captures the quality of the silhouette:

"A silhouette is both something and nothing, a negative and a positive. In today's world of Technicolor imagery, silhouettes appear gothic and gloomy, even ghostly, devoid as they are of visual information. There is no play of light and shade upon the sitter's face to describe the subtleties of age and expression as in other forms of portraiture--where is the personality, the eyes that are windows to the soul?...Their very "blackness" is enough to make some viewers feel repelled, as if they are staring into the void. Yet, in their heyday in the eighteenth century, they were described as the 'truest representation that can be given of man.'"

Rutherford quotes Sir David Piper as saying (in his book The English Face) a silhouette "is not really a portrait at all: in its basic form it is made by tracing the shadow--it is not merely a portrait of one's shadow, it is virtually the actual shadow, stilled and fixed on paper."

And this is sort of what you get in this book... The portrait of King George III... An unknown lady with a tall hat... A panoramic by Anna Maria Garthwaite of A house and grounds... Beautiful blue shadow portraits by Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh of Roger Palmer and Miss Palmer... A scene of hunters entering the woods...

Below are some of the photographs of silhouette portraiture. A great book.

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