Cyanotype history

Sir John Herschel

Sir John Herschel

Photographer: Julia Margaret Cameron
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

The cyanotype process was best known as a method of copying architectural and engineering plans in the 20th century – the ‘blueprint’. The process was originally invented by John Herschel (1792-1871) in 1842 in England,  who was looking for a method to copy his astronomy notes.  The cyanotype process postdates the daguerreotype and calotype methods, but pre-dates the pioneering photographic methods of salt prints, albumen prints, ambrotypes and tintype processes.

Anna Atkins

Anna Atkins

Source: http://www.yellowhouseartlicensing.com/

In 1843 Anna Atkins (1799-1871) , an English botanist and photographer, produced the first photographically illustrated book by using 421 cyanotype illustrations of seaweeds. Atkins named them ‘shadowgraphs’. The book was called British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

The New York Public Library has a good collection of Anna Atkins botanical cyanotype prints from John Herschel’s copy of her book. Some of these can be seen on http://www.flickr.com/photos/nypl/sets/72157610898556889/ and the complete set on can be accessed from http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgtitle_tree.cfm?level=1&title_id=100174.

Source: King, 1984. Say Cheese. Dodd Mead.

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