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

Sir John Herschel

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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:

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

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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

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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.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

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On January 7, 1839, members of the French Académie des Sciences were shown products of an invention that would forever change the nature of visual representation: photography. The astonishingly precise pictures they saw were the work of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), a Romantic painter and printmaker most famous until then as the proprietor of the Diorama, a popular Parisian spectacle featuring theatrical painting and lighting effects. Each daguerreotype (as Daguerre dubbed his invention) was a one-of-a-kind image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper.

He worked with Nicéphore Niépce, on how to make a permanent image using light and chemistry—and who had achieved primitive but real results as early as 1826. By the time Niépce died in 1833, the partners had yet to come up with a practical, reliable process.

Not until 1838 had Daguerre’s continued experiments progressed to the point where he felt comfortable showing examples of the new medium to selected artists and scientists in the hope of lining up investors.

Each daguerreotype is a remarkably detailed, one-of-a-kind photographic image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper, sensitized with iodine vapors, exposed in a large box camera, developed in mercury fumes, and stabilized (or fixed) with salt water or “hypo” (sodium thiosulphate).

From the moment of its birth, photography had a dual character—as a medium of artistic expression and as a powerful scientific tool—and Daguerre promoted his invention on both fronts. Several of his earliest plates were still-life compositions of plaster casts after antique sculpture—an ideal subject since the white casts reflected light well, were immobile during long exposures, and lent, by association, the aura of “art” to pictures made by mechanical means.

Neither Daguerre’s microscopic nor his telescopic daguerreotypes survive, for on March 8, 1839, the Diorama—and with it Daguerre’s laboratory—burned to the ground, destroying the inventor’s written records and the bulk of his early experimental works.

Fewer than twenty-five photographs by Daguerre survive…

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William Henry Fox Talbot

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He was also a frustrated artist, in the mid 1800s (1800–1877 to be exact). He was a  graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and when his photo discoveries started he had  recently been elected as a Liberal member of Parliament in the House of Commons. He like many of the other inventors of this  time was a true polymath. He did mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and botany, philosophy, philology, Egyptology, AND art history.

His motivation was that his camera lucida never let him accurately capture the world. It wasn’t  his own feeble drawings, rather he recalled with pleasure “the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus—fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away.”  He wanted to know how to make these natural images imprint THEMSELVES onto paper. Forever. He wanted to know why it wasn’t possible.

In early 1834 he began to experiment with the idea that had occurred to him, he found that a sheet of fine writing paper, coated with salt and brushed with a solution of silver nitrate, darkened in the sun, and that a second coating of salt impeded further darkening or fading.

Talbot used this discovery to make precise tracings of botanical specimens: he set a pressed leaf or plant on a piece of sensitized paper, covered it with a sheet of glass, and set it in the sun. Wherever the light struck, the paper darkened, but wherever the plant blocked the light, it remained white. He called his new discovery “the art of photogenic drawing.” (think about the old cyanotype)

As his chemistry improved, Talbot returned to his original idea of photographic images made in a camera. During the “brilliant summer of 1835,” he took full advantage of the unusually abundant sunshine and placed pieces of sensitized photogenic drawing paper in miniature cameras.

Occupied with other activities, Talbot worked little on his invention between the sunny days of 1835 and January 1839, when the stunning news arrived that a Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, had invented a wholly different means of recording camera pictures with dazzling precision on metal plates.

On September 23, 1840, he found a way. He discovered that an exposure of mere seconds, leaving no visible trace on the chemically treated paper, nonetheless left a latent image that could be brought out with the application of an “exciting liquid” (essentially a solution of gallic acid). This discovery, was called the “calotype” process (from the Greek kalos, meaning beautiful), opened up a whole new world of possible subjects for photography.

Talbot’s early photogenic drawings are so ephemeral that, despite their exceptional beauty, they can never be exhibited or exposed to light without risk of change.

Remember he called the work “the pencil of nature”

 

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