A photogram is a photographic image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material such as photographic paper and then exposing it to light. The usual result is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone that depends upon the transparency of the objects used. Areas of the paper that have received no light appear white; those exposed through transparent or semi-transparent objects appear grey.

Photograms are sometimes called “Captured Shadows”.





Simple, safe, and a whole lot of fun. Cyanotype was created (discovered) by the English scientist, astronomer, polymath, and all around rad dude, Sir John Herschel in 1842.

Just like a photogram, an image can be produced by exposing it to a source of ultraviolet light (like the sun). The UV light reduces the iron(III) to iron(II). This is followed by a complex reaction of the iron(II) complex with ferricyanide. The result is an insoluble, blue dye (ferric ferrocyanide) known as Prussian blue. Kind of sounds like cyanide, that name should ring a bell. SUPER DEADLY Poison. That being said, the only way to release the toxic is by using sulfuric acid. So don’t do that, oh, and maybe you shouldn’t eat it.

Exposure times range from 5 minutes to 25 minutes, depending on the UV value. You then develop the print in water. The cyanotype is perhaps the safest photo printing method available.





Image by Meghann Ripenhoff

Sir John Herschel

Julia_Margaret_Cameron_-_John_Herschel_(Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_copy,_restored)photo by Julia Margaret Cameron

Sir John Herschel was a scientist and astronomer like his father, Sir William Herschel. In 1809 he entered the University of Cambridge; in 1812 he submitted his first mathematical paper to the Royal Society, of which he was elected a fellow the following year. An accomplished chemist, Herschel discovered the action of hyposulfite of soda on otherwise insoluble silver salts in 1819, which led to the use of “hypo” as a fixing agent in photography. In 1839, independently of William Henry Fox Talbot, Herschel also invented a photographic process using sensitized paper. It was Herschel who coined the use of the terms photographypositive, and negative to refer to photographic images.  

In 1820 Herschel became a founding member of the Royal Astronomical Society. From 1833 until 1838, his astronomical investigations brought him and his family to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, where he met Julia Margaret Cameron, who became a lifelong friend. In 1850 Herschel was appointed master of the Mint, but he resigned six years later due to poor health. His remaining years were spent working on his catalogs of double stars and of nebulae and star clusters.


Some of his work:





Anna Atkins


Atkins was born in Tonbridge, Kent, United Kingdom in 1799. Her mother Hester Anne Children “didn’t recover from the effects of childbirth” and died in 1800. Anna became close to her father John George Children. Anna “received an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time.” Her detailed engravings of shells were used to illustrate her father’s translation of Lamarck’s Genera of Shells.

In 1825 she married John Pelly Atkins, a London West India merchant, and they moved to Halstead Place, the Atkins family home in Sevenoaks, Kent. They had no children. Atkins pursued her interests in botany, for example by collecting dried plants. These were probably used as photograms later.

Atkins self-published her photograms in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843. Although privately published, with a limited number of copies, and with handwritten text, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images.

Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853. Only 17 copies of the book are known to exist, in various states of completeness.

I have seen a few of her prints in person, at the Legion of Honor in SF, they are amazing, detailed, and beautiful.

This is a person who you NEED to know. Not only for her work, not only because she is a bad ass woman photographer, not only because her work still informs artists today, but because she is the grandmother of photobooks and to some level Zines.








Rayograms : Man Ray


Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky, August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976) was an American visual artist who spent most of his career in France. He was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. He produced major works in a variety of media but considered himself a painter above all. He was best known for his photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. Man Ray is also noted for his work with photograms, which he called “rayographs” in reference to himself.

He made his “rayographs” without a camera by placing objects-such as the thumbtacks, coil of wire, and other circular forms used here-directly on a sheet of photosensitized paper and exposing it to light. Man Ray had photographed everyday objects before, but these unique, visionary images immediately put the photographer on par with the avant-garde painters of the day. Hovering between the abstract and the representational, the rayographs revealed a new way of seeing that delighted the Dadaist poets who championed his work, and that pointed the way to the dreamlike visions of the Surrealist writers and painters who followed.

His rayograph work was an attempt to capture motion in a still image.



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Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytha


he was an Arab Philosopher who made HUGE contributions to the world of science, math, etc… but mostly we need to know who he is because he may be the great-great-grandfather of optics.

His most famous work is his seven-volume treatise on optics Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), written from 1011CE to 1021CE. It is SUPER long and crazy complex, but what you should know is his biggest achievement was to come up with a theory which successfully combined parts of the mathematical ray arguments of Euclid, the medical tradition of Galen, and the intromission theories of Aristotle. Alhazen’s intromission theory asserted that “from each point of every colored body, illuminated by any light, issue light and color along every straight line that can be drawn from that point”. This is about 65 years before the Chinese start writing about it.

He described a ‘dark chamber’ and experimented with images seen through the pinhole. He arranged three candles in a row and put a screen with a small hole between the candles and the wall. He noted that images were formed only by means of small holes and that the candle to the right made an image to the left on the wall. I know it seems like a “so what” kind of thing, but it was super important.

AND I just want you to know this name.

Nicéphore Niépce


The date of Niépce’s first photographic experiments is uncertain. He was led to them by his interest in the new art of lithography, for which he realized he lacked the necessary skill and artistic ability, and by his acquaintance with the camera obscura, a drawing aid which was popular among affluent dilettantes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Yes, the camera was made because Nicéphore couldn’t draw to save his life.

There is a long story about how much he tried to make these surfaces that would allow for the image that was being seen in a camera obscura permanent. Super toxic chemicals on metal, or glass, or even stone. He eventually was successful. Sort of. He made a method to create a lithographic surface. Niépce’s process rather than by laborious and inexact hand-engraving or drawing on lithographic stones. They are, in essence, the oldest photocopies.

Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means “sun drawing”. In 1822, he used it to create what is believed to have been the world’s first permanent photographic image, the image at the top of the page.