Cyanotypes

Anna Atkins was an English botanist and photographer. While some credit her as the first female photographer, others credit her as the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. She is known for her fascinating cyanotype photograms, so named for their brilliant blue color, which Atkins made to study plants and algae. Cyanotypes require careful labor in their construction, much like dark room photography.

I chose to make cyanotypes because the process of making a cyanotype and the resulting blue color are so different from any modern photography process with which I have experimented. I thought it would be really interesting to experiment with the cyanotype process, playing around with different objects and lengths of exposure time, since the physical process of working with chemicals and coated paper starkly contrasts with the mechanical process of producing digital images.

To make my cyanotypes, I coated watercolor paper with the ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate solution, let the paper dry, and then placed my object on the paper. I then placed the paper with the object in the sun, varying the exposure times based on the cloudiness of the sky. Finally, I washed the paper in distilled water to rinse off any unexposed chemicals and hasten the oxidation process, bringing out the blue color. I experimented with translucent materials, like feathers, my hair, lace, and fake flower arrangement filler. I also experimented with solid objects, like jewelry and my hand. I found that the cloudier it was outside, the longer I could expose my cyanotype and still get a clear outline of the object against a blue background. However, if I exposed my cyanotype for too long, I would not see such clear outlines.

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