In the Shadows

In grad school, I did a research project for an independent-film course in which I surveyed the work of Jim Jarmusch. In preparation for it, I watched all of his movies, and one thing I noticed was the repetition of certain visual patterns: in most, for instance, there existed a sequence in which the protagonist, along for a ride of some sort, would happen to glance offscreen to the right, we’d cut to her point of view, and then for a few moments, we’d watch through her eyes as ordinary buildings, houses (Night on Earth, others) or trees (Dead Man) went by, until finally returning to the character’s expressionless reaction. It wasn’t the kind of thing that necessarily meant all that much, but all the same, patterns are patterns, and it’s sometimes the ones that seem most trivial on the surface that lead to the most interesting conversations.

I’m not going to compare myself to Jim Jarmusch, of course. But given the number of pictures I’ve taken over the years, I figured there had to be at least some of this kind of repetition in my own work as well. So when my wife (with a bit of an eye roll) mentioned she’d noticed a few when assembling a photobook recently, I did a little scrolling through Lightroom. Turns out I do seem to take the same handful of pictures over and over — one of which is of my own (and sometimes other people’s) shadows.

Whether there’s any significance to that, I’ll leave you to decide. What I can say is that I tend to snap these kinds of pictures when I’m happy, when the light’s a bit unusual, and when the shadow happens to hop in front of me, catching me by surprise. There’s probably also something to the way that shadows or silhouettes suggest, in their abstractness, rather than spell out: whereas photography is so often about capturing and representing reality with accuracy and completeness, the shadow sort of pushes in the opposite direction, asking the viewer to fill in the gaps, as it were, with a little imagination. And also, they’re sometimes just funny.

You might also note the additional shadows that show up alongside me over the years, which tells a little story of its own.