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Hannah Rees IL6 BA (hons) Illustration

Dissertation

Hannah Rees BA (hons) Illustration Dissertation The Silhouette: A tool to illustrate narrative or an obsolete form of portraiture?

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Hannah Rees IL6 BA (hons) Illustration

Dissertation

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Acknowledgements go to Neil Hadfield and Simon Dennison for their help and guidance, to Linda and Richard Brown for proof reading this document and to Geoff Grandfield for agreeing to answer some questions.

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CONTENTS Section

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Acknowledgements ........................................................................................ 1 Contents ......................................................................................................... 2 List of Illustrations ........................................................................................... 3 Introduction .................................................................................................... 4 Part 1.............................................................................................................. 5 Part 2.............................................................................................................. 7 Part 3............................................................................................................ 11 Conclusion ................................................................................................... 15 Bibliography.................................................................................................. 16 Appendix 1 ................................................................................................... 19

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List of Illustrations

Figure 1

The Adventures of Prince Ahmed

Figure 2

The Principle of Surroundedness

Figure 3

Mussel Trees, Normandy, France

Figure 4

Silhouette Miniatures

Figure 5

Two Demons

Figure 6

Essays on Physiognomy

Figure 7

Cathedral by the water

Figure 8

Winter Landscape

Figure 9

Temple of Contentment

Figure 10 A fable by Kara Elizabeth Walker Figure 11 A Sky Full of Kindness Figure 12 The Thousand Nights and One Night Figure 13 The Adventures of Prince Ahmed Figure 14 Embarrassing Bodies Title Sequence Figure 15 Guess the Film Silhouette

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Hannah Rees IL6 BA (hons) Illustration

Dissertation

The Silhouette: A tool to illustrate narrative or an obsolete form of portraiture?

INTRODUCTION The reputation of the silhouette is conflicting. An artistic device known under various guises across the world and inspired by nature, it has the qualities to be a powerful and evocative tool, rich with cultural significance. Yet its name throughout Europe and therefore also a number of writings on the subject connect the art to a history of cheap portraiture and a pastime for thrifty aristocracy (Rutherford 2009 p21-27, Garrison 2000). The purpose of this dissertation is to prove that the silhouette is indeed a powerful device, particularly for illustration due to its relationship with narrative. Emma Rutherford in her book on the subject briefly considers the history of silhouette outside Europe but goes on to state that: “...silhouettes are best viewed within the wider sphere of portraiture; as an art form, they fall somewhere between a craft, a portrait, and a means of scientific analysis.” (Rutherford 2009 p21) The Encyclopaedia Britannica seems to support this in its initial description of the silhouette by claiming the word usually refers to 18th and 19th century portraiture (2013). It is not a surprising conclusion to draw considering the origins of the name. Etienne de Silhouette was a French finance minister before the revolution and it is claimed that whilst taxing the wealthy and trying to curb the spending of the royals he championed paper cut silhouettes as an economic hobby and a cheap form of portraiture. It has been suggested that it was rendered obsolete by the invention of photography in 1839 (Rutherford 2009 pp 21-27,225). One could draw the conclusion from this that the silhouette is redundant and that its only value is as a quaint antique souvenir. This dissertation will dispute the view that silhouette should be viewed within the sphere of portraiture and will argue that it has stronger ties to narrative and storytelling. It is the intention to prove this from its form, its history and its application in today’s artistic practices. A consideration into the form of silhouette will show its immediate properties and the uses to which it lends itself, whether portraiture, narrative or other uses. A look into the history will suggest that its past extends much further than 17th century France both in time and geography and will reveal the significance that may have become attached to the art from other cultures. Finally, examining the use and portrayal of silhouette in today’s western culture will suggest sources of influence both from the form of silhouette itself and from past uses, and will reveal the extent of its connection with narrative. To clarify what is meant by the word silhouette throughout this dissertation, the following definition is to be used: “1. 2.

the outline of a solid figure as cast by its shadow an outline drawing filled in with black... and mounted on a light ground” (Collins English Dictionary 2010)

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PART 1 - FORM To understand our perception of silhouettes it seems reasonable to begin with their occurrence in nature, for the simple reason that this influence will be common to all cultures, past and present (although perhaps interpreted differently). As mentioned the Collins English Dictionary describes silhouette as “the outline of a solid figure as cast by its shadow”. A natural silhouette is an object, the front part of which is in shadow and which only appears visible because there is light behind it creating a contrast. From observation it seems that it is less frequently observed in full sunlight because the sun is too bright to look towards when backlighting objects, and reflections from other sources can interfere with the shadows. In short, there is too much light around. It is possible to see individual dark objects such as tree trunks in silhouette during full daylight, however it is never the case that whole horizon will be in silhouette and it seems to be much more common at times when the sun is less bright and as low as the observed objects or at night when other light sources such as fire create the effect. Johansen and Larsen when discussing the connection of nature and culture in Signs in Use, assert that our surroundings in the natural world can become signs. We perceive and react but the sign is created when we interpret that impulsive process. (Johansen and Larsen 2002 pp26, 154-158) It is likely therefore that at times of low light when deciphering shadows is most important, the naturally occurring phenomenon of a silhouette has become associated with impending darkness. Darkness itself might represent a number of things depending on experience and culture for example peacefulness, preparation for sleep, concealed threats and vulnerability or solitude. Perception may also be affected by the object silhouetted and the viewer’s location. For example spotting the silhouetted shape of a palm tree at sunset may give us a feeling of wellbeing and peace, especially if the climate is warm. On the other hand an outcrop of rock silhouetted by the moon could be interpreted as bleak because of the viewer’s knowledge of wind in such places and this may well be emphasised if alone or in cold weather. If either of these objects were depicted in a painting, the viewer’s experience would allow the likely climate to be imagined and they would interpret the image accordingly. It must also be noted that a silhouette will most often be seen at a distance because the closer the subject is to the viewer, the more detail becomes apparent. Therefore it would be reasonable to suggest that silhouettes imply a certain distance at least physically and perhaps also metaphorically (for example the past or the unreachable). To further consider the form of silhouettes and how they are perceived, it will be beneficial to look into their appearance in artistic practice, highlighting some of their qualities. A silhouette is notable for its simplicity, or more specifically the removal of all detail, an example of which is seen in figure 1. All the detail that could be included within the image is discarded so that the image uses only flat planes of colour and no lines. The only way to distinguish a silhouette on a plain background is by the change in colour. The only detail in such a picture is the shape of the outline created by this change in colour. This feature has two effects, as described in a photography article on silhouettes. The first is withholding information, the result of which as the article suggests is Fig: 1 The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Reiniger 1926) that much is left to the viewer’s imagination and that it can turn a fussy subject into a stronger, clearer one (The Photo, 1982). The details withheld are line, tone and hue. No features are delineated, the image is all one colour and the lack of tone makes silhouettes typically flat. However the afore mentioned article claims that all these things can be inferred by the viewer’s imagination, and further that an image is made more memorable by this withholding of information. These claims would appear to be supported by the use of silhouettes in road signs. One area of a single colour is more visible from a distance than a number of fine lines. Also the less information given, the quicker it is to read when passing at speed and the easier it is to recall the image. Another effect of removing detail and thereby distractions, is that the eye is drawn to the only point of information which is the outline. The outline then becomes the most important part of 5 of 18


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the picture. This is especially effective when silhouetting people as it can emphasise postures, which is particularly useful when depicting action (The Photo, 1982 p1325) One question which remains unanswered is how we are able to make sense of such a simplistic picture. According to Chandler’s comments on perceptual organisation, smaller areas will be seen in general as figures against a large background. He also mentions the principle of surroundedness, which asserts that areas which are surrounded by other areas are Fig: 2 Principle of Surroundedness normally perceived as figures (Chandler, 1994). This (Chandler 1994) effect is illustrated by figure 2 which may initially appear to be a series of black shapes, before deciphering the word Tie in white letters. Two other relevant principles that he mentions are those of proximity and of similarity, whereby figures which look alike or are close to each other are seen as belonging to the same shape. This highlights the ability of the eye to quickly make sense of very simple images and combined with the comments on the viewer’s imagination explains how the simplicity of the silhouette is understandable. It is the most simple an image could be whilst still being generally recognisable. To further demonstrate this point, Figure 3 shows the way in which the eye attempts to make sense of silhouettes and the enormous scope for imagination that this provides. The picture is of mussel trees in Normandy (posts on the beach to collect mussels at high tide), but as the photographer notes, it Fig: 3 Mussel Trees, Normandy, France (Roberts 1992) could be imagined the posts were an army getting ready for battle, with families nearby to bid them farewell (Roberts, 1992). Thus far there is little to suggest that the implications derived from the natural silhouette assist in portraiture. The Collins English Dictionary describes a portrait to be a likeness of an individual, particularly their face through painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph, or other means. (Collins 2010). The less information included in the portrait, the more ambiguous that likeness will be, and therefore simplicity is not particularly beneficial to portraiture. The addition of detail to a portrait such as the afore mentioned moon light will not only take some of the focus away from the face, but may also make the viewer consider why the person is outside at night and perhaps begin to imagine the details of such a situation, which would surely show the portrait to be a very good Fig: 4 Silhouette Miniatures (Shears n.d. illustration for a story, but not a very good record of a Edwardian) likeness. Figure 4 shows some miniatures from the early 20th century which do add background, and indeed they appear to be depicting a story rather than creating an accurate likeness. It could of course be argued that great detail is not necessary, for example if the portrait aims to imply a certain person but still retain an air of mystery. However this only suggests that silhouette has one use in portraiture and not that it is best viewed within this sphere. Another argument could be that the outline becoming the most important part of the picture would make silhouette ideal for profile portraiture, as it would 6 of 18


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emphasise those features seen in the outline. However, this would merely imply that the most important part of the face to be recorded is the profile. This was indeed the view held by physiognomists during the 1700s as will be discussed in more detail later, and explains in part why silhouette portraits were popular at this time, but for the present it is sufficient to say that these views are understandably described as pseudo-science (Encyclopedia Britannica 2013) and therefore only relevant within the context of their era. Conversely, as discussed the emphasis on outline can aid the depiction of movement necessary to describe a series of actions, and the simplicity of appearance does not hinder storytelling. An imprecise impression is ideal for a fictional character since an exact record of a real face is not necessary and, as has been discussed, the withholding of information may well encourage the imagination. A lack of specific detail picturing an unknown person, could assist the viewer in identifying with the character themselves. The implications of darkness and the emotions generated therefrom could be used to good effect in setting the tone for a story. It is also possible that the distance at which a silhouette is often viewed may also imply the past in the viewers mind, or at the very least the unspecific - not a record but a tale. PART 2 – PAST USES Many different methods have been and are being used to create silhouettes, such as puppets, dance, paper cut, paper and canvas mediums (pastels, paints, pen etc), lino, digital painting, and camera. These are all used for a variety of purposes including pleasure, decoration, art, portraiture, information, advertising and storytelling including theatre, film animation and illustration. This section deals with some of the uses of silhouette throughout history, the meanings they bring with them and what links they show with narrative. Perhaps the most widespread use of silhouette and therefore the most potentially influential is the shadow puppet theatre, having been common throughout the middle east and the far east and having lasted well over two thousand years. Greek philosopher Plato (who died in 347bc at the latest) (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2013) was familiar with the art form as he used the example of shadow puppeteers to explain his famous Allegory of the Cave (Heidegger and Sadler 2002 p18,19). It is well documented that shadow theatre has been popular in Turkey, India, China and Indonesia, and later in France, though there is some dispute as to its place of origin (Chen 2007, p37-41; Djajasoebrata 1999 p17; Encyclopaedia Britannica 2013). The art form is still practiced today in Java and is an important part of the culture of that island and Indonesia in general. For this reason this discussion will use Javanese shadow theatre particularly as an example of both past and present use. In the strictest sense, shadow theatre is only partial silhouette according to the definition used for this dissertation. The shapes are silhouettes or shadows of the puppet, but don’t appear exactly as silhouettes due to detail using perforations as shown in figure 5. However a consideration of it is justified by it being the forerunner of the animated silhouettes which became popular in Europe as will be considered later. The Fig: 5 Two Demons (Djajsoebrata 1999) silhouettes were created in much the same way as the stationary profile portraits in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Traditionally an oil lamp casts 7 of 18


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the shadow of the puppets on to a white screen. This has the potential to make very clear silhouettes, however the puppets were perforated in lines to allow light to pass through and delineate certain features such as the eyes. This is part of the complex visual language which has built up around these puppets. The limitations of distinguishing different shadows have given rise to a number of different rules for identifying characters, for example, size. In Java the animist beliefs of the people have encouraged the use of the characters as role models. The puppeteer is traditionally a highly respected and educated literary expert who uses traditional tales to teach morals to the people, whilst also being viewed as a mediator between the people and the higher powers including gods, spirits and government. He also has a legal immunity whereby anything said during a performance cannot be held against him, whilst he in turn is obliged to be diplomatic in any political comment made. (Djajasoebrata 1999 pp86, 87; Unesco n.d.) The first point arising from the above facts is that the derivation from nature can clearly be seen in the oil lamp used, which is often in the shape of the mythical sun bird, recreating the effect the sun has on figures (Djajasoebrata 1999 p77). The association with night discussed in Part 1 can also be seen. Whilst it is possible to create silhouettes during the day in a darkened room, tradition dictates that these performances always take place at night lasting from sunset to sunrise (Djajasoebrata 1999 p84). Timing is very important and it is at midnight in the story that the hero arrives and at dawn the story is resolved with a happy ending. Thus the association of darkness here seems to depict problems ending in resolution. The second point to be noted is the development of the visual language. As previously mentioned, there are limitations enforced by the use of shadows. The monochrome effect gives a similarity to all the puppets which requires greater distinction to be made in the shapes and outlines. Some very distinct characters begin to emerge, with rather intricate outlines. The limitations of the puppeteer also affect the visual language. He is only able at one time to hold as many puppets as he can adequately control, with other puppets stored to the side of the screen. The more puppets, the more complicated the performance will be for both himself and the audience in remembering the puppets’ characters and voices. Therefore a limited number of well known historical characters are used to represent whole groups of people, for example the servants as can be seen in Djajasoebrata’s book on the subject. He also states that the puppeteer is a diplomatic mouthpiece for the public and it is likely that these generalised silhouettes create a tactful commentary when used for instance in a show commenting on politics (1999 pp69, 86, 87). The puppeteer is able to represent the views of the whole population via a few of “the servants”, and it would be possible for the puppeteer to tactfully hint to the authorities what the people want by making the wise and revered puppet king to provide the desired solution in the show. Equally it could explain to the viewers through said “king” the dilemmas the politicians are facing. The simplicity and generalisation of the silhouettes provide an anonymity to air views with a tactful diplomacy which is not seen for example in the caricatures featuring in British political cartoons. This shows that owing in part to the anonymity and distance provided by the shows, puppet silhouettes can be a powerful mediation tool. This anonymity can further be seen when considering the puppeteer. The importance of the afore mentioned immunity afforded to him during a performance can be seen in light of the delicate political nature of his job. However he himself has to follow rules. Aside from using diplomacy, he also must not show himself during a performance. It seems in fact as though, as the mouthpiece for these mythical characters, it is not he who is speaking but the characters through him. Hence why no one can condemn him and he can’t show himself. This use of shadows complements the theme of mythical characters in that they are insubstantial and untouchable. The relationship of silhouette with narrative, particularly oral folk tales is evident in this verbal and visual art form. The fluid motion and blending of shadows is ideal to compliment the flow of the story. In summary then it can be seen that the beauty of the shapes created in conjunction with an exciting night time atmosphere and the promise of a good story ensures an audience, providing an ideal platform for anonymous, insightful political commentary, mediation and influence. At the same time teaching the traditions for morals, history and art in the form of narrative entertainment to each 8 of 18


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generation. The longevity of this tradition is testament to the effective partnership of shadow pictures and narrative. The influence of the shadow puppet on Europe came from trade and invasions from the west. Initially, the Egyptians took their influence from Java, after which Egypt was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, and passed on the art to Turkey (Hochman 1984). Chen states that the first Europeans to take on the idea of shadow puppets were the Italians. One style which the Italians performed was Egyptian, using black cardboard puppets to make silhouettes, albeit still using the plays to portray traditional folk tales. In spite of the name Ombres Chinoise, (Chinese Shadows) given to this art form when it reached France, Chen suggests that this was more to do with the fashion for Chinoiserie at the time, which was used to relate to anything from the East, and that they clearly derived their inspiration from Egyptian styles (Chen 2007 p48,49) Here we can see that the history of shadow theatre is an important background to the introduction of silhouettes to Europe. It is important also to mention that in the same place Chen notes a resemblance between the silhouettes and the cut out portraits which were in fashion at this time. It is difficult to ascertain whether paper cut or shadow puppets were the first to arrive in Europe, but they certainly followed a similar route and seem to have strong connections throughout history. Paper cut followed the secret of paper making from China, through Turkey where there was a guild of paper cutters during the 16 th century and from there into Europe (Heyenger 2011 p9). Catherine de Medici, regent of France is recorded as cutting profiles of her courtiers during the 1500s. (National Portrait Gallery 2004). By the 1600s it was a popular craft in Germany and Switzerland although these were more of a decorative style and not profiles (Melichson 2009 p8). It is clear therefore that both shadow plays and silhouette cutting are associated art forms which both came from China via the Ottoman Empire, from a history of folk art and narrative. However as the cutting of profiles was clearly already known in the French Court it is unclear why the art form received its European name and some its enduring renown from the French finance minister of 1759. Rutherford mentions the ridicule de Silhouette was receiving at this time, and perhaps it was notoriety rather than fame which made it last so long (Rutherford 2009 p23). Much of the popularity of silhouette profiles was also due to Johann Lavater who endorsed the so called science of physiognomy, whereby a person’s character could be deduced from their profile (Rutherford 2009 p36, 37). Figure 6 shows an example from Lavater’s book Essays on Physiognomy. It is important to mention this because of its introducing the theme of judging by appearances and also its connotations of racism whereby the more similar the genes, the more similar the profiles are likely to be, and therefore everyone with those genes must have a similar personality. It Fig: 6 Essays on seems that ascribing the title of science to the pastime, endorsed it as Physiognomy illustration worthy rather than self-indulgent. The fashion for silhouettes was taken to (Rutherford 2009 p36) America with emigrants from Europe during the 18th century and became equally as popular there (Rutherford 2009 p185).

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Contemporary with Lavater and from French occupied Germany in the wake of the French Revolution and through the Napoleonic wars, was of course the development of the German Romantics. The movement seems in every way to have differed from and even opposed the attitudes behind profile portraiture. It was a reaction against the Enlightenment. Further, rather than attempting classify and distinguish people, it aimed to unite people of a shared culture, through the collection of folk tales and highly symbolic artwork. It represented a wistful glance back to the past when Germany was united by the Holy Roman Empire, a desire for the traditional religion and an emphasis on the peace of nature (Hartley et al 1995 pp39, 211). In Fig: 7 Gothic Cathedral by the Water, Karl Friedrich Schinkel (Hartley et al 1995 p224) fact it wished for traditions not unlike those of shadow theatre. It is can be no coincidence therefore that in spite of the associations of silhouette with their oppressor, France and with the Enlightenment they opposed, the two artists described as the greatest of the romantic artists both used silhouette in their work (Hartley et al 1995 p42). The artists were Philipp Otto Runge and Caspar David Friedrich and are described as having similar backgrounds and similar interests, both being from the same place and born three years apart, and both being interested in the times of day which were greatly symbolic in Romantic art. The times most often depicting silhouettes or partial silhouettes were night and evening (and winter). These represented old age and death in Fig: 8 Winter Landscape, Caspar David the life of a person with the implication that morning Friedrich (Hartley et al 1995 p220) (or Spring), being the resurrection, would follow. Runge, who saw his era as standing on the edge of all religions and a time of lost paradise, may well have used night to depict this time (Hartley et al 1995 pp66,67). This also seems to be evident in Schinkel’s Gothic Cathedral by the Water (figure 7) where the Cathedral stands in the light of the setting sun and as the times of day correspond with the seasons, in Friedrich’s Winter Landscape (figure 8). In the latter Friedrich utilises the common experience of nature to set the scene. The land is cold and empty, death is evident in the crucifix, and partially silhouetted in the evening mist is a Cathedral, the symbol of religion, looking distant and unreachable.

Fig: 9 The Temple of Contentment (Hartley et al 1995 p68)

The link with the lost purpose of silhouettes does not end there. Runge himself used paper cut to depict nature and contentment (figure 9). In the temple of contentment, he uses the old skill of paper cutting to depict a simpler life, with the added benefit that the silhouette nature of the work again implies a distance with its unspecific figures. Thus the simple image evokes in some way his longing for Paradise (Hartley et al 1995 p68). The coinciding of this gloomy and wistful art with the reignited interest in folk tales cannot be ignored. The tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in 10 of 18


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1812 (Hartley et al 1995 p494) was a part of this movement and is evidence that the same mood which compelled artists to depict silhouettes, resulted in an attraction towards fictional narrative in literary experts. It must be noted that there is no evidence to suggest the German Romantics looked to shadow theatre for inspiration as is clear from their entirely different styles and methods of execution. Nonetheless it is evident that in spite of the very different approaches to creating silhouettes both used them as a method to place emphasis on the past, traditions, religion and mythology and used darkness to imply times of trouble, to be resolved with dawn. Neither the interest in folk tales nor the use of silhouette seems to have died out in the 19th century. Copenhagen, the birth place of Hans Christian Andersen had strong connections with the German Romantic movement (Hartley et al 1995 p36) and according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, was influenced by German Romantic writer E T A Hoffman (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2013). Perhaps Arthur Rackham was following in the same tradition and picking up on the mood evoked by the fairytales when he used silhouette to illustrate two stories from the Grimm collection a century after they had been published (Evans 1919; Evans 1920). At approximately the same time Lotte Reiniger made her first animation and from this it is clear that the memory of shadow theatre was still alive in the 20th century. Actor Paul Wegener noticed her cutting silhouette portraits and asked her to create a title sequence for his film. Wegener was interested in myths and fairytales and he may have had some influence over subsequent topics for animation (Bock and Bergfelder 2009 pp160, 388). What is clear is that Reiniger’s animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Reiniger 1926) reveals some homage to the Arabian shadow theatre and that she created other animations based on folk tales, such as the Pied Piper of Hamelin, thereby choosing to link silhouettes with narrative. In the Romantic movement lay the origins of the German Expressionist philosophy in its criticism of unimaginative rationalism and its depiction of its present age as dark (Selz 1974; Spicer 2002). Furthermore it was concerned with the instability and fluidity of identity which appears to have been in direct opposition of the views that Lavater had previously held, in the implication that if the identity of a person was ever changing, but the profile remained roughly the same, the two could not be connected. In turn, Expressionism influenced film noir. The odd angles can be seen in both and both used chiaroscuro lighting and black shadows, which led naturally to the occurrence of silhouettes which can be seen in Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Wiene 1920) where the scene is set with the mysterious shadows of two people, and Film Noir production The Big Combo (Lewis 1955) which ends with two silhouettes disappearing into the mist. Another film noir use of silhouette occurs in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958) during the dream sequence. This film in some way illustrates the Expressionist view of instability. The silhouette here shows the loss of identity as the hero descends into a living death. In view of the darkness of the film and the use of silhouette it is interesting that the film has been described as being obsessed with the past (Spicer 2002 p81). The use of silhouette in films (which is of course a form of narrative) is hereby established as setting a dark and unsettling tone, and can be used to express the past, the mysterious, the loss of identity or death. In the last example all four are expressed at once. PART 3 – CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION Having established some of the history of the silhouette, and its association with narrative it is now possible to examine some contemporary examples of its use, considering their possible connections to nature and history whilst ascertaining if there are any new applications. Kara Walker’s use of silhouettes is fascinating in that it draws on themes introduced by past uses, reapplies them and to some extent turns them against themselves. In an interview she explains that she used silhouettes as an alternative to painting. Whilst cutting out shapes she was trying to understand what she liked about art and about history and describes herself as a historian of sorts. (UCLA 2011). Interestingly she does not seem to be inspired by one past use of silhouette alone but draws on different versions, thus showing that in her mind at least they are all related. As mentioned silhouettes were popular in America from 18th century and it must also be noted that by the late 19th 11 of 18


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century many of the silhouette cutters were African Americans (Berry et al. 2003 p93) The slave trade, often depicted in Walker’s work, was in operation throughout this time and it seems to be therefore from the history of portraiture that her inspiration comes. She however puts her figures to work and all are occupied in some action. It is never just the face that is portrayed but whole scenes showing that a simple portrait could never be enough to explore the relationship between black and white people or between women and men. The artist’s interest in history introduces the possibility that she may be familiar with Lavater and his views, and it is interesting therefore to see how Walker uses this form to explore race, with the result seemingly to indicate that the whole of society is troubled in some way. Lavater tried to predict action by face alone, whilst Walker depicts the actions which were truly being performed regardless of appearances. Her interest in history also makes an interesting comparison with the German Romantic movement. Both used silhouettes to represent a longing and a looking back to the past, but whilst the Romantics were wishing the present was like the past, Walker’s work seems to express a wish that the past of her ancestors hadn’t happened, showing that sometimes the past can’t be romanticised. She is certainly aware of the literary associations of silhouette which were born at this time, as can be seen from her book and it’s title “Freedom: A fable by Kara Elizabeth Walker” (Figure 10) (Berry et al.2003 pp134-139). Using cut out silhouettes of people and landscapes it implies a wish that the Fig: 10 A Fable by Kara Elizabeth Walker people of America would work together. A book (Berry et al. 2003 pp 134-139) which comments on much of her work to date is entitled Narratives of a Negress and clearly shows in the title alone the association of Walker’s work with storytelling (Berry et al. 2003). In the interview mentioned earlier, clips are shown of her animations which she describes as a logical step to take in developing her work. She mentions its association with shadow theatre and clearly it is shadow theatre that inspired this stage in her work. However she asserts that the content remains the same (UCLA 2011). This suggests that she is finding different ways to tell the story, but always using her token of silhouette to represent the past. The use of silhouette in her work clearly aids in drawing on history, but also the form of silhouette itself is effective. A graphic painting of life on the cotton plantations may draw the attention of people interested in the subject, but the use of silhouette could draw a wider audience, with its associations with fairy tales and the exotic. An immediate attraction to her energetic and elegant shapes would draw viewers in for a closer look, at which point the real message would begin to appear. The anonymity of the characters aided by silhouette means that groups are implied rather than individuals from the time, so that it can still be a relevant warning for this generation. Perhaps it also an answer to the Romantic movement, by suggesting that it is tempting to romanticise the past but further investigation may well reveal that nothing is as it first seems. Another interesting example of silhouette today is the work of Rob Ryan. Whilst he states that his one source of reference for the practical side of his work came from a book about Tyrolean paper cut, the influence behind his message was the German Romantic movement, and his reapplication of this message can be seen. The same wistfulness can be seen in his book “A Sky Full of Kindness” (Figure 11). The

Fig: 11 A Sky Full of Kindness (Ryan 2011)

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story is about a bird who is concerned about the world her first chick will be born into. She discovers that in spite of her worries, kindness can still be found in the birds, in spite of the cruelty exhibited by man in caging the birds, and in spite of the stone angel appearing to the birds as being dead. The story has the same connotations of religion, being not unlike the nativity with its promised birth, dreams of warning, inspired singing and visits from the wise. The church in which the bird lives features too and this also links to the silhouetted churches displayed by the German Romantics. The inclusion of the stone angel which one of the birds perceives to be dead suggests the implication that religion is either dead or was never real in the first place. Whether this is Ryan’s view or whether he is commenting on the view of other people is unclear. However the moral at the end of the book is clear, that whilst the world isn’t perfect, it’s the only one we have and we should try and make it better (Ryan 2011). This use of a moral displays a strong link with the fables of the German Romantics and the gentle encouragement towards peacefulness and kindness has a similarity to the message of the shadow theatre. Looking at the work of illustrator Jan Pienkowski arouses certain questions. His publisher’s website claims his inspiration came from Polish paper cuts he had seen as a child (Penguin, n.d.). A look at Polish paper cuts show that they are distinct from the paper cut traditions throughout the rest of Europe in that they are colourful (Melichson 2009 p9). They look more like stained glass windows than like the silhouette paper cuts found through the rest of Europe. Furthermore, Pienkowski’s work (figure 12). bears an uncanny resemblance to the work of Lotte Reiniger (fig...), giving rise to certain questions, for instance, did she influence his work but he was unaware of it? Did he omit to Fig: 12 The Thousand Nights and mention her or decide not to mention her influence in his One Night (Walser and Pienkowski 2007) work for reasons of his own? Or did he arrive at a similar creative solution entirely separately? He lived in Austria, Germany and Italy before going to school in England in 1946 and if he hadn’t come across Reiniger’s work in Germany, it would be surprising if he had seen none in England, as Reiniger herself moved to England only three years later, having lived there previously (Pienkowski, n.d.;Bock and Bergfelder 2009 p388). The subject matter is also similar in the use of silhouettes to depict folk tales. Reiniger’s Adventures of Prince Achmed (Reiniger 1926) is exactly the same group of Arabic tales as the thousand nights and one night which Pienkowski illustrated (Walser and Pienkowski 2007). Nothing can be proved but his work Fig: 13 The Adventures of Prince certainly seems to be in the same tradition. His use of this Achmed (Reiniger 1926) method to illustrate A River of Stories, a collection of tales from around the world (Curry and Pienkowski 2011) seems particularly appropriate. Silhouette art is a tradition which has been popular in many countries across the world. It bridges race not just in traditions but in appearance, making colour irrelevant and to some extent also hiding sex and clothing fashions in its shadows. Silhouette is here used as a style to which everyone can relate. Illustrator Geoff Grandfield’s use of silhouette draws inspiration from Film Noir, as confirmed by Grandfield himself in a recent discussion (App 1). He stated that he felt silhouette was useful because of the anonymity it provided. For example, when designing the cover for the an autobiographical book, Touching the Void he was requested not to depict the author’s appearance, however for his design he needed to include the figures involved. Silhouette provided him the means to do so. He also stated that illustrations are rarely required for news stories, photographs being deemed more appropriate for an accurate representation. His editorial work lies mainly in reflective features, which he states, tend to generalise rather than refer to specific people and to aid this he 13 of 18


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Dissertation

uses silhouette. This seems to be ideal in that he can appeal to whole generalised groups of people at a time. This ability of silhouette to remove specific identity can be seen in the Ipod commercials (2003). The silhouette is used as a background to emphasise the white product. With the upbeat music and dancing it could also be seen as implying that using Ipod people can express their identity with their choice of music. On the other hand it could be aiming to appeal to the majority of people with the taste in music expressed in each different commercial. The same use is applied in some instances to emphasise mystery as in Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence for James Bond movie Casino Royal (Campbell 2006). It has been used by Fig: 14 Embarrassing Bodies Title Sequence broadcasters to remove identity of victims to a crime (2013) (Panorama 2006) and in Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies (Figure 14) to go with their assertion in those programmes that everyone is the same. It has the added benefit of being an eye-catching graphic device and it is not surprising therefore that its use is varied and widespread. The commercial use of silhouette does not clearly evoke the historical use and often the images may appear to draw more inspiration from Art Deco’s flat planes of graphic colour than from the history of silhouette. However the form of the silhouette has remained common throughout the decades and a familiarity with the idea may have helped to inspire the current trend Fig: 15 Guess the Film Silhouette (Guardian 2012) for silhouette in graphic design, especially when considering that Lotte Reiniger’s first silhouette animation was a title sequence (Bock and Bergfelder 2009 p388). Certainly Graphic Designer Olly Moss shows an awareness of the history of silhouette in his comical take on the traditional profile portraits. However this is used as a guessing game, because it is not immediately obvious which characters feature in the portraits, highlighting the ambiguous nature of the silhouette for this purpose (Guardian 2012). The connection of silhouette with narrative can clearly be seen in light of its continued use by illustrators, use in film and application by contemporary artists such as Kara Walker. It could also be argued that the memory of the profile portrait has not ceased to influence, as can be seen by Olly Moss’ reference and again, by Kara Walker’s use to evoke that era of history, and this is not denied, however it is clear the this is not the primary source of inspiration for the use of silhouettes, nor the primary use, and that artists using silhouette today are inspired by a variety of historic references and qualities that the silhouette can provide.

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CONCLUSION Beginning with the occurrence of silhouette in nature, considering its use in history and its contemporary applications a wide range of qualities have been revealed. The darkness implied by the natural silhouette can be seen in the traditions of shadow theatre which influenced Reiniger, in the German Romantics view of their age, in the mystery and horror of film noir and in the dark themes of Kara Walker’s art. These all also show the implications of the past, derived from the distance and unspecific nature of the silhouette. The ethereal nature implied by shadows has been seen to be particularly useful for mythological characters and the anonymity it provides proves useful both in the depiction of fictional characters, encouraging the imagination and keeping hidden the identity of real characters in narrative. The graphic nature proves to be an eye catching device, keeping the attention and the emphasis on the outline enables the depiction of movement without overcomplicating the images. It has been seen that all of the above have been utilised when applying silhouette to narrative, including puppet shows, films, animations, books, television and journals and fine art. There can be little doubt that silhouette has many meanings and qualities, all of which can be put to good use to illustrate narrative. There does not appear to have been any point throughout its history where the use of silhouette was in danger of being forgotten. Rutherford herself admits that whilst portraiture in silhouette seems to have diminished the abstract and narrative qualities of silhouette endured (2009 p229) and therefore it seems strange that she felt they were best viewed within sphere of portraiture. There can be little doubt that profile portraits are an important part of the history of silhouettes. However to view the silhouette entirely within the sphere of portraiture is to disregard its true origins and to ignore its constant reinvention throughout history and within today’s artistic practices. It is to ignore its value as an ideal tool in all forms of media, including illustration. Most of the qualities of the silhouette are of little use to portraiture, and of the ones it uses, the emphasis on the outline and the appearance of mystery do little to aid the recording of a face. Its graphic quality does add something attractive to the image and it is likely that many people enjoy the art form for the era it evinces. The history appears to show this form of portraiture to be a side line to the true story. The value of silhouette did not end with the arrival of photography and the long history continues provide a rich source of reference and inspiration to artists who choose to use this valuable device.

Word Count: 7341

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Apple (2003) Advertisement for I Pod [advertisement on ITV Television]. Viewed 2 February 2013. BOOKS BARTHES, R (1989). Mythologies. 13th ed. London: Paladin Books. BERGER, J (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books. BERRY, I.,ENGLISH, D., PATTERSON, V. and REINHARDT, M. (2003). Narratives of a Negress: Kara Walker. London: The MIT Press BOCK H, M and BERGFELDER, T. (2009) The Concise Cinegraph: Encyclopaedia of German Cinema. New York: Berghahn Books Ltd. P388, p160 CHEN,F.P. (2007) Chinese Shadow Theatre. Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press pp37-41,48 COLLINS (2010). Collins English Dictionary. London: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd COULSON, S, LILLEY, C and NEIL, A (2009). Rob Ryan. Wakefield: Yorkshire Sculpture Park CURRY, A. and PIENKOWSKI, J. (2011) A River of Stories. London: Commonwealth Education Trust Books DJAJASOEBRATA, A. (1999) Shadow Theatre in Java. Amsterdam:The Pepin Press. P17 EVANS, C.S. (1919). Cinderella.London: W Heinemann EVANS, C.S. (1920). Sleeping Beauty.London: W Heinemann GARRISON, W.B. (2000). What’s in a Word. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press HARTLEY, K.(1995).The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790 – 1990.London: South Bank Centre HEIDEGGER, M, SADLER,T. (2002). The Essence of Truth. London: Continuum p18,19 HEYENGER L. (2011). Papercutting; Contemporary artists; Timeless craft. San Francisco: Chronicles Books LLC p9 HOCHMAN, S. (1984). Encyclopaedia of World Drama Vol 1-5. New York: McGraw Hill p127 JOHANSEN, J.D and LARSEN, S.E. (2002). Signs in Use. New York: Routledge MELICHSON, H. (2009). Polish Paper Cuts. Massachusetts: Quarry Books. p8 ROBERTS, J. (1992). Spirit of the Place.Creative Monochrome, Surrey p57 RUTHERFORD, E. (2009). Silhouette: The art of the Shadow. New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc. 16 of 18


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RYAN, R (2011). This is For You. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd RYAN, R (2011). A Sky Full of Kindness. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd SELTZ, P.H. (1974). German Expressionist Painting. London: University of California Press SIEGEL, L (1978). Caspar David Friedrich and the age of German Romanticism. Boston: Brandon Press SPICER, A. (2002). Film Noir. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd VAUGHAN, W (1994). German Romantic Painting.2nd ed. London: Yale University Press WALSER, D. and PIENKOWSKI, J. (2007). The Thousand Nights and One Night. London: Puffin Books

FILMS Casino Royal. (2006). [DVD]. Campbell, M. U.K.:Metro Goldwyn Meyer, Columbia Pictures The Adventures of Prince Ahmed. (1926). [DVD].Reiniger L. Weimar Republic. Comenius-Film GmbH The Big Combo. (1955). [DVD]. Lewis, J.H. USA. Allied Artists. The Cabinet of Dr Caligary.(1920). [DVD]. Wiene, R. Berlin. Decla-Bioscop A.G. Vertigo. (1958). [Video].Hitchcock, A. USA. Paramount Pictures

JOURNALS (1982) Silhouette. The Photo, Issue 48 Vol 4, 1324 - 1327. The Guardian (2012). Guess the film Silhouette. [online] Guardian. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/gallery/2012/oct/24/drama-thriller. (accessed 02.02.2013)

PRESENTATIONS Grandfield, G. 2012. Work of Geoff Grandfield. Hereford College of Arts, unpublished.

TELEVISION BROADCASTS Embarrassing Bodies: Series 6, Episode 1. (2013). [TV programme] Channel 4, 18 February 2013, 21:00

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Panorama: Jimmy Saville, What the BBC Knew. (2012). [TV programme], BBC1, 26 October 2012, 00.25 WEBSITES CHANDLER, (1994): Semiotics for Beginners [WWW document] URL: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem08.html [08.01.2013] Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2013) Silhouette. [WWW document]. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/544147/silhouette (Retrieved 7 February, 2013) Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2013) Physiognomy. [WWW document]. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/458823/physiognomy (Retrieved 8 February, 2013) Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2013) Plato. [WWW document]. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/464109/Plato (Retrieved 8 February, 2013) Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2013) Shadow Play. [WWW document]. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/537547/shadow-play (9 January 2013) Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2013) Hans Christian Andersen. [WWW document]. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/23566/Hans-Christian-Andersen (9 February 2013) National Portrait Gallery.Silhouettes. [WWW document] URL: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2004/silhouettes/introduction.php [10.01.2013] Penguin (n.d.) Jan Pienkowski. [WWW document] URL: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000025335,00.html PIENKOWSKI (n.d.) About Jan. [WWW document] URL: http://www.janpienkowski.com/aboutjan/about-jan.htm UCLA. (2011). Hammer Conversations: Kara Walker and Hilton Als [WWW document] URL: http://hammer.ucla.edu/watchlisten/watchlisten/show_id/845393 UNESCO (n.d.). Wayang Kulit [WWW document] URL: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00063 [08.01.2013]

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APPENDIX 1 Interviewee: Geoff Grandfield Year: 2012 Title: Informal Interview after Lecture on Geoff’s use of Silhouettes Interviewed by: Hannah Rees Type: Verbal Location: Hereford College of Arts Media Centre Date: 18th October 2012

Asked Geoff if he was happy to answer a few questions and if I had his permission to include his answers in my dissertation to which he replied “yes”. Q: Where did the influence to use silhouettes come from? A: As I mentioned in my lecture, I’ve been interested in Film Noir and that’s predominantly where my inspiration comes from. Q: Why do you choose to use silhouette and dark figures? A: Because of the dark atmosphere it creates Q: What specific qualities does it bring? Based on your lecture, perhaps anonymity? A: As you heard in my lecture, I chose to use silhouette to hide the author’s face when doing the cover for Touching the Void, so yes, anonymity. It’s useful when illustrating reflective features so that I can apply it to a wide range of people. It has a nice graphic quality too.

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Hannah Rees dissertation  

The Silhouette: A tool to illustrate narrative or an obsolete form of portraiture?

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