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Prior to the invention of photography in the mid-19th century, the silhouette was considered an effective and inexpensive way to record a person’s likeness or capture a scene. Although the practice can be traced back to the early 17th century, the term ‘silhouette’ derives from the harsh policies of the French finance minister Étienne de Silhouette.

The silhouette reduces an object to its most basic form. Its historical uses in art can be seen in the paper cuts of Hans Christian Andersen and the artwork of Kara Walker. In photographic terms, the silhouette is created in situations where the subject is backlit. It can be used to hide a person’s identity or play up their distinctive features, and its graphic form is often used artistically to photograph sport and dance. It heightens drama, adds atmosphere and makes a banal scene into a graphic wonder.

More than 200 years ago, the silhouette was the foremost way to document one’s appearance, but it’s still widely used in photographic frames today. From capturing the Costa Concordia to presidential primaries and pilgrims, LightBox looks at the use of silhouettes on the wires this month.

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Mitt Romney made history Tuesday night as the first Republican to win both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary since 1976. Ron Paul came in second and Jon Huntsman finished third, while Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry trailed in their wake. Photojournalist Christopher Morris’ latest collection for TIME explores the journey behind this historic primary and the strange mix of enthusiasm, fear and anticipation that accompanied it.

In 2006, the Morris released his first monograph, My America, which began on assignment for TIME during the George W. Bush administration. Now he journeys into Republican America again for TIME in this collection.

Morris trains his lens on those to whom the political grasp for power is most dear—not solely the candidates, but perhaps more poignantly, the voters. Complex and diverse faces drew Morris’ attention in New Hampshire. “A true visual palette awaits any photographer who ventures up here to experience the very American process called a primary,” says Morris. “Not only was I captivated by the looks of the New Hampshire voters, but equally interesting were the campaign staff, the journalists and the odd-man-out characters on the campaign trail.”

Morris’ ability to capture the tension that connects the inner human spirit with outward communal realities is unparalleled. He describes his anthropological style as “straight and modern.” To that, we would add distinct and cinematic.

His insight into America’s young faces—the children whose future many of the candidates claim they are running to save—conveys a fresh look into the candidates’ audiences. His images here of blue sequined boots and twisted American flags provoke deeper wonderment at both the American social realities and political processes. Then there is his soon-to-be priceless snapshot of Ron Paul—in all his White House runs, we’ve never seen Paul look quite like this. Enjoy a moment to soak in these pictures before the race sprints onward to the Palmetto State.

Christopher Morris is a contract photographer for TIME and represented by VII. See more of his work here.

Elizabeth Dias is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. Find her on Twitter @elizabethjdias.

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Lars Tunbjörk is accustomed to seeking out the absurd. And on his first assignment covering U.S. politics, the Swedish photographer, best known for capturing the subtle humor in his native country’s suburban landscapes, didn’t need to look too hard. The frenzy of candidates, crowds and media that accompanied the Republican caucuses earlier this week in Iowa gave Tunbjörk absurdity by the ballotbox-full. This series of revealing and often humorous photos, commissioned to illustrate TIME‘s political coverage in the magazine and online, is a remarkable snapshot of American democracy in action. Tunbjörk often arrived early to watch campaign workers set up and stayed long after the the spectacle ended to capture them breaking down the stages. “The people of Iowa work hard during the process and take it very seriously,” the photographer says.

With a fresh eye, strong flash and unusual compositions, Tunbjörk captured the personality-driven candidacy of Rick Santorum as he prayed before a plate of nachos in Johnston, Iowa, and discovered Mitt Romney’s robotic rhetorical repetition on the trail in Clive and West Des Moines. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann were also photographed, and Tunbjörk shows the full spectrum of the long days both the candidates and Iowans endure, waiting at events and standing out in the cold during the sometimes grueling caucus process. Under the Iowa big-top, the marvels never cease. “Sweden is such a quiet country,” Tunbjörk says. “And this process is such a circus.”

Lars Tunbjörk is a Stockholm-based photographer and represented by Agence Vu in Paris and by the Gun Gallery in Sweden and Paul Amador Gallery in New York. He is the author of Vinter (Steidl, 2007) and his next book, L.A. Office (MACK) will be out this spring.  

Adam Sorensen is an associate editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @adamsorensen.

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Tuesday’s Iowa caucus goes down in the history books as a photo finish for an epic race. Mitt Romney edged out victory over Rick Santorum by just eight votes, with Ron Paul finishing not far behind. Iowa City photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier, who has been covering the race in the Hawkeye State for TIME, offers an inside look at this the quintessential American saga from its early to final days, and in chronicling this path, he sheds light on a Republican spirit ready to take on Barack Obama.

Frazier’s lens captures the sentiments not just of the candidates but also of the voters, as well as the reporters who’ve covered them both. For Frazier, the Iowa path is well-worn. He traced the campaign trail for the magazine in 2008, and now, four years and a recession later, the state’s mood appears expectant and committed. The Tea Party vigor has muted, but the determination for change has not. It is apparent in the eyes of those he photographed, from Occupy Des Moines protesters to Faith and Freedom Coalition banqueters to veterans at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, all of whom were preparing to make 2012’s first great decision. And when you behold his images of empty audience chairs after campaign stops and candidate speeches, you can’t help but feel the present investment Iowans—and all the nation’s Republicans—feel in their political future.

“I followed Republican presidential hopefuls as they addressed voters in kitchens, cafes, and town halls—candidates opening themselves up to unexpected questions as they met face to face with factory workers, farmers and residents of a state that is questioned over its first in the nation status once every four years,” Frazier said. “Attack ads paid off, as did the traditional formula of visiting all 99 counties and doing the ‘work’ that wins Iowa.”

Several of Frazier’s photos have already become some of the election’s most memorable. He snapped Michele Bachmann moments after she declared her candidacy in June, and Newt Gingrich as he was getting his makeup done for a November interview—both of which were featured in the pages of TIME last year. Then there are his images of Rick Perry hunting pheasants with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in October and Rick Santorum following suit two months later. Some things never change—you have to know the game to play the race.

Danny Wilcox Frazier is a photographer with Redux who is based in Iowa City.

Elizabeth Dias is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. Find her on Twitter @elizabethjdias.

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