Cyanotypes

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.

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Image by Meghann Ripenhoff

Anna Atkins

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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.

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