What is the Fascination with Shadows?

What is the Fascination with Shadows?

Is it that they tell part of a story without giving away the whole picture? Or that they are mysterious, not quite representing things as we see them? Or is it simply that as a creative and a photographer I am attracted to the patterns, shapes and textures?

I've realised recently that shadows are a big part of my photographic artistry and I've begun to ask myself why.

Naturally, for there to be a shadow, there has to be light. It's interesting that in times gone by there has been the concept of the forces of light and the forces of darkness. The expression 'a fear of one's own shadow' dates way back.

For me, I think it is the fact that they are intangible. They can be glimpses of something else, in fact, glimpses of anything we see in them, and they dissolve. They are impermanent. I consider their beauty, because of the shapes and patterns, but there is a sadness to them for me because they are not real. They distort the truth.

I am drawn to photograph them, perhaps, as an escapism from my 'day job' of photographing people and things, but mainly to capture them before they are gone. Shadows of a fleeting world.

I like the concept that when we are in the shadows (psychologically speaking), there is also beauty to be found. Shadows are subtle, delicate forms created by the presence of light, and therefore they are tied to hope. They are a reminder to me that nothing is fixed – tomorrow will come and the sun will rise.

Perhaps that is why, in the personal projects I've done over the years, my favourite images are those with deep shadows or shadows cast in ways that create intrigue.

This all started when I went on a 'writing course' in deepest darkest South West France. l'd actually signed up on the basis that I would be able to do my own thing in terms of photography. It was a chance to take a break from my photography business, and focus on myself and creating a photographic project.

When I turned up, I, and each of my fellow artists, was given a notebook. I didn't think I'd be using it, because I was there to photograph not write. But that first morning I woke just as the sun was rising. The light was beautiful and it cast deep shadows into the little rustic room that was mine. In fact, everything about the house was 'rustic' (some might say decrepit), and that morning I felt the urge to write before I photographed. Had I not been given that notebook, I wouldn't have done that. It was the start of writing, drawing and photographing as part of a combined artistic endeavour that continues today.



Going back to the shadows that mesmerised me that morning, this was one of the first photographs I took. The balcony was outside my room and the light streamed onto it, casting deep shadows, which emphasised the patches where you could see through to the ancient bones of the building. I created with the intention of hearing the building speak to me of its past and its future.

Soon after that I embarked on a project photographing Victoria Baths, a disused set of swimming pools in Manchester, which would form the basis for my Fellowship submission to the British Institute of Professional Photographers for Fine Art Photography. I remember swimming every weekend at the Victorian Baths in Acton as a girl. It is the changing rooms with their wooden doors that are foremost in my memory, which is why, when I stepped into Victoria Baths and saw the way these cubicles looked and felt with the deep shadows, I had to create an image that took me straight back to those Saturday morning trips to Acton Baths.

Shadows are used in creative endeavours to have particular impact: think of Hollywood lighting for drama, up-lighting of faces for horror, soft shadows on the Mona Lisa for beauty. In studying or observing light, its presence, its absence, or its direction, a photographer can harness light for the impact they are visualising.

I have an ongoing project photographing artists, (it's one of those projects that doesn't seem to have an end). I use light and shadows to give a feel to a photograph — you can see the different effect on these two photographs of very different artists, which tell different stories about them. 

My current creative project is looking at all the shadow photos that I take on my smartphone when I'm visually inspired, and pairing them with paintings or sketches.

Wherever my creativity takes me, I always seem to be drawn back into the shadows.  




Jo Scott | Photographer