Undoubtedly the earliest form of projected images were shadows. From the dawn of time the sun created natural shadows and once fires were built the possibility of casting shadows existed. The earliest shadow performances were probably Chinese. Beginning in the 10th century stories were told employing figures made out of donkey skins to cast shadows on a translucent screen. Many of these early shadow plays were either folk tales or based on the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Shadow shows appeared slightly later in Java. Javanese shadow plays are primarily religious, many derived from two great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The shadow puppets, called Wayang Kulit, were most often made of buffalo skin and the plays took place on a translucent screen. Famous for their length, the Javanese shows would begin at sundown and last until dawn. Interestingly, for many centuries men and women watched the shows from very different vantage points. The women sat in front of the screen and saw only the shadow figures on the screen. The men, on the other hand, sat behind the screen, viewing the manipulation of the puppets by the Dalang as he cast shadows on the screen in front of them.
The shadow show emerged in Turkey a couple of centuries later. The Turkish shadow puppets were simpler less finely crafted than either the Chinese or Javanese shadows. Many of the plays concentrated on the relationship between Karagoz, an everyman with a lack of formal education and his boss Hacivad, far more refined and educated, and how Karagoz somehow always seemed to best Hacivad in one fashion or another.
The shadow show, as a popular form of entertainment, emerged in Europe during the 18th century. In no place in Europe would the shadow show be as popular as in France where they were referred to as Ombres Chinoise. No one was more important in the development of French shadow shows than Dominique Seraphin. He opened his show in Versailles in 1772. Rather than using puppets made with animal skins Seraphin used cut out cardboard silhouettes. Seraphin’s theatre, which ultimately migrated from Versailles to Paris, lasted from 1772-1870. Slightly later another popular shadow theatre was to open in Paris. Le Chat Noir, a restaurant frequented by French artists and intellectuals, put on its first shadow show in 1887. The figures first used were simple but over time became more complex and zinc made figures joined the silhouette cut outs.
The nineteenth century saw an explosion of books, and games for children which allowed them to play with shadows and make their own entertainments. One very popular form of cut-out shadow entertainment was the shadow blanc or white shadows. Often these were sold in books or sheets and the person, first had to cut out the detailed face or figure and then with the aid of a candle the shadow could be cast on a wall or screen.