Cyanotypes and Photograms

Cyanotypes and Anna Atkins 1799-1871

“The English scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel discovered this procedure in 1842. Although the process was developed by Herschel, he considered it as mainly a means of reproducing notes and diagrams, as in blueprints.”

“It was Anna Atkins who brought this to photography. She created a limited series of cyanotype books that documented ferns and other plant life from her extensive seaweed collection. Atkins placed specimens directly onto coated paper, allowing the action of light to create a silhouette effect. By using this photogram process, Anna Atkins is regarded as the first female photographer.”

Anna Atkins 1799-1871


While I was in Foundation Art and Design I made several of these, in the dark room. I placed some leaves and simple flowers on the photographic paper but it was a bit difficult to see in the dark, then the photographic light was shone on (depending on the results of a previous test strip), for about 18-20 seconds. The paper was then developed by place them in two different diluted chemical baths for a certain number of secs/mins consecutively, then a plain water bath to rinse as I recall, then hung up to drip dry.

I did intend to step up my efforts by bringing in more interesting flowers on the degree course. Each year I hoped to include photograms in my schedule but it never did happen. The only flowers I have really been interested in investing money and time in were the lily but once I had them I was only intent on drawing them. It would have been necessary to cut the stem down to make photograms and the lily stamens pollen tends to transfer to anything it touches and would probably have spoilt the photograph paper.

I also wish that I felt that it was possible to spare the time to experiment further, but I seemed to be too wrapped up in printmaking processes.


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