Here is a silhouette of a lady, framed, apparently used as a portrait. I bought it in Berlin. It was made in 1919 at Silhouetten=Atelier W.Piesker, on Passage Laden, Berlin, it is written on the back.

Silhouette has its origin in Asia. Shadow play (l'ombre Chinoise) became a fashion in Europe after Dutch sailors brought them back from Indonesia, it is believed. Wide range of shadow plays developed in Asia. Indonesian and Turkish shadow puppets are well known. Chinese tradition of extremely refined cutting paper might also had an influence on European silhouette.

Japanese developped an interesting tradition around shadow play. Because of the half-transparent Japanese paper which was commonly used to devide rooms, Japanese could use rear projection screens almost everywhere, at home and at party places. Such rear projection was ideal to play "guess-what" not only with fingers but also with objects. There are series of UKIYO-E prints dealing with Japanese shadow games and related ideas. What you see here is a Japanese version of sihouette of a well-known KABUKI actor of the time.

On the other hand, while the Europeans invented projection system such as laterna magica which finally developed into cinema, the Japanese failed to make major contributions to the area - they relied on personal skills rather than on engineering. This is a part of the history of images which is not very well known.

By the way, here I am, as a digitally made silhouette with a video camera sitting on my computer monitor.
A portrait of a media researcher looking into the history of light and shadow....

by Machiko Kusahara, 1996 (updated Jan.2001)

Please visit the UTSUSHI-E web site, on Japanese magic lantern history.

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