Shadowgraphy or ombromanie is the art of performing a story or show using images made by hand shadows. It can be called “cinema in silhouette”. Performers of the art are often called a shadowgraphist or shadowgrapher.
The art has declined since the late 19th century when electricity became available to homes because light bulbs and electric lamps do not give off good shadows and also because cinema and television were becoming a new form of entertainment. Shadows are greatly defined by candlelight and therefore hand shadows were common in earlier centuries.
The modern art of hand shadows was made popular by the French entertainer Félicien Trewey in the 19th century. He popularized the art by making silhouettes of famous personalities.
Since shadows have existed since the existence of objects obstructing light, it is hard to say when the art was first used by humans for entertainment. It could have been practiced by ancient or later humans, but it probably originated in the Far East. The French entertainer Félicien Trewey was interested in the art of Chinese shadow puppetry called Ombres Chinoises, which means “Chinese shadows”. He popularized the art of hand shadows when he developed shadows of famous silhouettes. It then became popular in Europe in the 19th century.
The tools that are required for this art are Hands, Light source and a Blank surface.
The hands are usually exercised and different finger positions are practiced to help aid in forming the shadows.
The light source to be used should be small and bright. The best shadows come from light proceeding from the smallest possible point. Albert Almoznino suggests to use a candle, a flashlight (with the lens and reflector removed) or any very small light. If a bulb is used, it should be clear. J. C. Cannell suggests in his book, Modern Conjuring For Amateurs, that the best source of light to be used is the electric arc, which Almoznino agrees to the small arc lamp, and the second best being the limelight (if used with a high-class jet). Trewey suggests unless the chalk for the limelight is cut in a triangular form, it will produce a gray border around the edge of the shadow. Cannell states another favourite amongst shadowgraphists is the use of acetylene gas (i.e. acetylene gas lamp or carbide lamp).
Albert Almoznino suggests to use a white or light colored wall or a white sheet or table cloth for a small audience such as in a private home. If a wall is dark-colored, the sheet or table cloth can be hung against it. If you’re performing for a large audience such as in an auditorium or on a stage, he suggests a screen made of muslin or other thin cloth attached to a frame. In a nightclub, hall or small theater, he suggests a nylon screen on a pliable aluminum frame. It is a screen sometimes used for TV projection and is called a rear projection screen; but the light must be stronger such as a small spotlight without the projector, lenses, or diffusers, or a motion-picture projector with the front lenses removed.
The performer will often sit or stand between the light source and the blank surface, yet also has the option to perform in front of the performance surface or behind it, each with different advantages. The performer has another option to perform from the left or the right of the light source. The farther the hands are from the light, the smaller the shadows will be, while the closer the hands are to the light, the larger the shadows will be. Also, the closer the hands are to the blank surface, the sharper the shadows will be. Trewey suggests that the most convenient distance for the light from the hands is four feet while the hands from the performance surface should be about six feet. The performer should always watch their shadows instead of their hands.
Movement helps to give the shadows character and bring them to life. Some shadows are performed with accessories attached to the hands or fingers to achieve movements or images not applicable to hands alone.
Source – Wikipedia