Amar Sen’s incredible Indian shadowgraphy

I’ve been doing a lot of research in to shadow puppetry lately and I came across this outstanding ad for Indian Tourism made entirely with hand shadows, a technique that’s known as shadowgraphy.

Shadowgraphy is the art of performing a story or show using hand shadows (it’s sometimes referred to as “shadow play” or “hand shadowgraphy”). Although some form of it has probably existed as long as storytelling itself, modern shadowgraphy was popularized as a form of mass entertainment in the 19th century by French entertainer Félicien Trewey. Although the art form fell out of favour at the dawn of the twentieth century with the advent of cinema, the tradition has been continued by a select group of artists around the world.

Here’s another great promotion piece made with shadowgraphy:

Both of these videos were created by Amar Sen, a respected multidisciplinary Indian artist. Amar first became interested in shadowgraphy in the 1960s and spent sixteen years practicing and studying the art with his friend, magician Sabyasachi Sen, for almost two decades before they began performing it professionally.

As Amar told Thaindian News a few years ago:

Initially we were asked to perform at children’s shows since they thought it is child’s play, (but) Handshadowgraphy has been successfully resuscitated…the real reward is being able to have successfully nurtured the art as my own child and the way it has touched the audience, who at times have been moved to tears and given us standing ovations.”

I’ve been designing some shadowgraphy effects for a shadow sequence in PuppetVision: The Movie and I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s not an easy art to learn, even for a brief 20-30 second shot. I can only imagine the years and years of work it takes to make performing full shows seem as effortless as Amar and his team does.

Amar is working to preserve shadowgraphy in India by teaching it to students at the Academy of Magical Arts and Research in Kolkata. He’s also rumoured to be working on a book about the art form.

You can learn more about Amar Sen and his work at www.amarsen.com.