Photography is old. It’s not as old as drawing or painting, but it’s still old. The oldest surviving photograph, a heliographic photograph titled View From the Window at Le Gras is from 1827. That is almost two 90 year old people living back to back! With that, in the 19th century there was landslide of various photographic processes in an effort to figure out the most viable way to capture an image without a paintbrush, a pencil or verbal description.
Enter an English baronet, Sir John Herschel, who invented the blueprint through his discovery of the cyanotype process in 1842. He wasn’t really into photography, he was just a scientist who really only used the process for notes and diagrams. So his friend, Anna Atkins, a botanist, decided to make a book of photograms called “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.” It’s the first photobook ever published! 1
The basic gist of the process is this. You mix two chemicals (Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate) with water, take your canvas (or paper, textile or any other absorbent material) and slather said mixture on it. The printing is made by UV light, like the sun or a light box. Then just rinse it off, and a white print with a blue background emerges!
In today’s day and age, you have digital cameras with way too many megapixels than anyone reasonably needs and lenses so sharp they come with a cut hazard warning label. So why in the leaking pinata would you want to play with an ancient process (by photography standards)? Because like any other artistic medium, the results they produce can be used to your artistic advantage. Fancy yourself a modern day Man Ray? Making a 20×24 cyanotype angel? Channeling your inner Elvis Costello?2
But at the end of the day, we all know that I’m writing this article to sell something, and that is the Cyanotype kits that we happen to have on sale right now! For only $39.99, you too can try an alternative process and be the hip kid on the block. Try it yourself today!
1Parr, Martin, and Gerry Badger. The Photobook: A History. Phaidon, 2014.
2“Almost Blue.” Performance by Elvis Costello, YouTube, YouTube, 18 Aug. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeIPBQjJ2P0.