Reflection: Accidents

When first engaging with BoW I spent a day playing around with the absolute basics, light. I had a macro adapter connected to my camera and passed light through a prism. Getting up close with a home-made colour spectrum was fun. Later on when I returned to my desk I had left the live view function on the camera where I could see the abstraction below. I aligned the camera more centrally and took a few frames. What engaged me was that all of the elements in frame are what we would call white. The shadows, the walls, window frame, blind and paper lamp.

Contained within this abstract is the primary reason I prefer to photograph in black and white. Determining colour via the sum of white balance, hue and saturation is a delicate and sophisticated balance that cameras and post-production software have increasing intuition to resolve. That said when confronted in this abstract way it posed a simple problem. Working in monochrome eliminates this limitation of colour representation and allows me to focus more clearly on tonal interaction, form and space more concisely.

Not so much an accident but a coincidence in retrospect, the first time I used the term shadowgram was for a preparatory reflection ahead of my first tutorial with my tutor for BoW, Robert. In that situation I was playing with the controlling of shadows from a decoration object. Initially I was talking about how I wanted to play with the differences between projection and illumination. Much of my theorising was based at the time on Junichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows. Tanizaki frequently returns to the role shadows and the mystery of what cannot be seen is a defining characteristic of the Japanese, and by extension the East Asian aesthetic generally. Absence being as important as presence reflecting on the human incapacity to see everything. Knowing so is seen as a virtue. Reflecting back on a couple of months ago, much of what I am doing now is still theoretically based on these ideas. Sometimes that gets lost in the coursework and tangents that other resources and referrals take you.

Recently I was reflecting on my current shadowgram experiments with a friend who suggested the images above reminded him of Plato’s Cave. That allegory is in essence what I was initially writing about, without the reference point. And so reflecting now on how the BoW has progressed, I think that Tanizaki’s appraisal of shadow and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave are the central to what I am exploring. While the aesthetic of absence provides space for the viewer to determine the picture, what I take from Plato is my desire to avoid representation and narrative is based on the desire not to be a puppeteer (providing another superficial illusion).

This reflection has come at an interesting time for me (accident or design?). I was left wondering how to proceed with my shadowgram explorations. Due to seasonal change the area of my original study for A2 has gone now for the winter, but in late afternoon a new one appeared on the opposite side of the room.

Being based in the studio after many weeks on the street (accident and design) has allowed me to study this light interaction whenever there is a sunny afternoon. I have returned to my idea of photographing within a contained A4 paper space, transferring the role of composition from the camera framing to the paper. The result means I concede total compositional control, focusing on on space at a time allowing light and shadow to come and go. Printing the photographs to size and as the placeholder I am curious of the compositional makeup of the wall containing images documented from the history of the wall, creating “an ‘umbilical’ connection between the object and the image.” (Howells, 2011, p.199). Together with further interactions of light on forthcoming days how will the light align or overlay.


Howells, R (2011) Visual Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Plato (1943) Plato's The Republic. New York: Books, Inc.

Tanizaki, J (1933/2001) In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage.