3 October 2010 § 1 Comment
Dutch: Cyanotypie, Blauwdruk
German: Cyanotypie, Blaudruck, Eisenblaudruck
Cyanotype is a photographic process discovered by Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) in 1842, the first that’s not based on silver but on Prussian Blue, that contains several salts of iron that are light sensitive. The actual process needed only two ingredients: potassium ferricyanide and ammonium ferric citrate, that were both cheap but not so easily available
Most, if not all, of the images Herschel himself made with this process are actually photograms, that weren’t created by using a negative from a camera, but using so called ‘diaphanes’ (Ware) such as engraved and woodcut prints.
The first and most famous application of this technique for an illustrative purpose, was made by Anna Atkins in 1843, a botanist and possibly the first woman photographer. Her photograms were made by exposing seaweed directly to the sunlight using Herschel’s cyanotype process. The photographs were privately published in several installments between 1843 and 1853 as Photographs of British Algae, containing over 200 hundred hand-printed photographs of seaweeds and also some occasional cyanotype texts.
Because of the relative simple and cheap process it was widely used by engineers to make large-scale copies of their designs, in this meaning the term blueprint is still in use today, even though it’s long replaced by modern techniques.
HERSCHEL, J.F.W. ‘On the Action of the Rays of the Solar Spectrum on Vegetable Colours and on Some New Photographic Processes’. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 202 (1842). pp. 181-214.
ATKINS, A. Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Privately printed, 1843-1853.
SCHAAF, L.J. ‘The First Photographically Printed and Illustrated Book’. In: Bibliographical Society of America Papers, 73 (1979). pp. 209-224.
SCHAAF, L.J. and KRAUS, H.P., Sun Gardens – Victorian photograms by Anna Atkins. New York: Aperture Books, 1985.
WARE, M. Cyanotype : The history, science and art of photographic printing in Prussian blue. London: Science Museum; Bradford, National Museum of Photography, 1999.
Illustration from Atkin’s Photographs of British Algae as published online at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/?col_id=188