Twilight Silhouettes on Great Salt Lake's Bridger Bay

October 01, 2012


: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

In this photo, captured in the bright but declining light of a summer sunset on August 5, 2011, backlit human figures create a tableau in the steel-blue shallows of Great Salt Lake’s Bridger Bay. The shore is along the northern tip of Antelope Island, a Utah state park. Over many centuries, silhouettes like these have become popular in arts, crafts and beyond. For example, dark profiles with few or no details, and dominant backlighting, are key elements in Indonesian shadow plays, modern photography and cultural touchstones ranging from film noir motion pictures of the 1940s to those eye-catching advertisements for Apple’s portable iPods.

The elegant simplicity of the silhouette is appealing to our modern sensibilities, so it's interesting to learn that the word itself comes from the name of an 18th-century French official, Etienne de Silhouette, a man renowned as a penny pincher. De Silhouette was the comptroller-general of finances during Europe’s Seven Years War of the 1750s and ‘60s (also known as the French and Indian War in its North American theater). His brief administration came in 1759 during a familiar-sounding crisis: The pre-revolutionary Ancien Regime of Louis XV’s French government was facing a deep deficit – it was spending much more than it was reaping in taxes. De Silhouette attempted to retool the system, removing some taxes and imposing new ones, while scrimping everywhere he could. At the same time, a form of portraiture – cameo-style profiles cut from black paper – was becoming popular. Because the miniature portraits were cheap, and because de Silhouette was considered a cheapskate, his name became mockingly attached to the inexpensive cut-paper craft, and stuck, lending an aristocratic panache to an array of art forms. Photo taken on August 6, 2011.

Photo details: Camera Maker: NIKON CORPORATION; Camera Model: NIKON D60; Focal Length: 260.0mm; Aperture: f/5.6; Exposure Time: 0.0025 s (1/400); ISO equiv: 800; Exposure Bias: none; Metering Mode: Matrix; Flash Fired: No (enforced); Orientation: Normal; Color Space: sRGB; Software: QuickTime 7.6.4.